Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Neither fish nor fowl 

Academic searches are naturally tricky things. Departments that have conflict will battle over gaining a new ally or new enemy; departments that have good chemistry will do everything in their power to avoid upsetting it. When hires have more than one dimension, such as hiring an outside department chair as well as a new faculty member, they are even trickier to manage.

One example is this story from the economics department at the University of Nebraska, where they have been trying to hire someone to run the Nebraska Council on Economic Education who could also be a department member. Since I know (at least by reputation, and a few on a first-name basis) many of the principals to the story I am going to be a little circumspect here. But the problem is that what could be required to run a council for economic education might not fit with what it takes to be a faculty member at a research institution. The job ad asks for mainly administrative experience, yet the fellow could end up losing the job and retreating into the faculty.
The candidate should have experience in education, business, government, or with a nonprofit organization. The individual selected must have a demonstrated record of administering programs, motivating people, and securing grant and other funding. Work in economic education is highly preferred but all suitable applicants will be considered.

Oftentimes good administrators have sacrificed research interests -- I know being a department chairman has cut into my research time, and what I get done is largely in the evening. Good departments will be resistant to that dilution of their standards. This is why I found it funny that the article notes that the department focused on the lack of administrative experience of the finalists. That's not the issue they would be concerned about. The council's contributors, on the other hand, should be. There's no indication that they would have been acceptable to that council's board of directors. And that's the problem with these types of positions -- the department and the center or council often have different preferences; outside academic chairs (who usually get a tenured appointment) face two sets of preference from the department and the dean and provost, and a department that can't agree to an internal candidate for chair raises a red flag.

One suspects there's more to the story. I honestly don't know if there is or not.