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Assume a North American STEM-based tenure-track position to which a search committee, including a couple of faculty members and the chair of their department, corresponds.

Regarding decisions to be made at various stages such as "initial shortlisting", "campus visit applicant selection", and "final selection", are all the cited decision making processes for such a tenure-track position totally transparent to all members of that search committee? In other words, which scenario described below (or otherwise) is the typical case?

Scenario 1:

Each member of the committee communicates their opinion about each applicant directly to the chair, and the other members do not know about the specific content of the assessment of other peers. Then, the chair, considering all the recommendations, solely selects the applicant who is the best in their estimation without expressing any justification to the remainder of committee members.

Scenario 2:

All members of the search committee can see each other's votes, and the chair shares their final justification to pick the lucky applicant(s) at every stage.

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    From my experience the committee discusses/debates the strengths/weaknesses/suitability of the candidates openly. There is not necessarily a vote if there is a general consensus on who the best candidate is. This approach has it's problems/biases. Hiring strategies almost always do.
    – atom44
    Jan 4, 2023 at 8:44
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    @atom44: What do you mean by “hiring strategies”?
    – user41207
    Jan 4, 2023 at 8:51
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    Just the process which is used by an organisation to hire staff. This can range from very formal and rigid to informal and anywhere in between. All have their advantages/disadvantages.
    – atom44
    Jan 4, 2023 at 9:45
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    Yes, that is why I didn't post an answer. This is just my (fairly limited) experience with academic hiring committees. I'm sure these things vary from institution to institution and even committee to committee.
    – atom44
    Jan 4, 2023 at 11:22
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    Heavily depends on too many factors. No single answer possible.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 4, 2023 at 13:31

2 Answers 2

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Generally speaking I expect that decisions are transparent. If an organization operated otherwise it would lead to disfunction and poor internal working conditions. That happens, of course, but the pressure of faculty would tend to work against lack of transparency in most cases.

But heads of department may not be able to make the final decision in any case. A dean might also need to be in the loop, especially if there are financial considerations, for example.

And, you haven't covered the case where a hiring committee comes to some sense of consensus on a candidate (my experience) and makes a joint recommendation to the administration, rather than just individual (especially secret) votes. I have seen the situation where the hiring committee met as a group to discuss candidates and the senior members defer to a junior member to hire a person that would be helpful in extending her research. The hiring decision was then obvious to all.

Often there can be some compromise. A candidate might be viewed as fitting into some particular research group leading to some lobbying. A candidate might seem to bring something fresh to the department.

Heads of department and deans also, generally, want to keep peace in the faculty, especially when there are factions of various kinds. This might lead to some negotiations.

And if the person making the final decision, assuming it is so centralized, can't justify it to the faculty, then there is likely to be disruption. So, transparency is selected for if not always present.

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A selection or hiring committee is not an ISO-specified machine, certified by an external evaluator. It is a collection of people with their own motivations and preconceptions, and as a consequence if you take 100 hiring committees, you will likely find 100 different approaches of which 60 are functional, 20 are dysfunctional, 10 employ unethical practices, and 10 involve nepotism and coercion. (Of course, the numbers are made up and you are free to choose your own numbers.)

The point to make is that you can't assume that there is a "typical" approach they all follow. I don't think the question as asked is even useful in assessing how these committees actually work.

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