This article is published in the November 2008 issue.

Faculty Recruitment Timelines: Proposal for Change

The CRA Board of Directors has recently had discussions about problems in faculty hiring practices, especially related to the timing of the process and the associated gridlock that results as candidates wait for responses to their job applications.

Problems identified in the current process include:

  • Candidates waiting to hear from particular schools defer decisions on pending offers, making it difficult for other schools to move to alternative offers;
  • Positions may go unfilled because the process runs very late at some schools; by the time a candidate turns down an offer, the remaining pool may be committed; and
  • Some candidates may accumulate a significant number of offers before deciding, thus delaying the opportunity for schools to move to alternative offers.

The timing issue impacts both departments and candidates. From a department’s perspective, the delay in informing candidates of offers or declinations can mean that by the time a candidate finally turns down an offer, it may be too late for the department to go to the next person on its list. As a result, the position remains unfilled or, in some cases, the slot expires due to school regulations.

From a candidate’s perspective, a more timely decision process may mean earlier decisions by other candidates, thus freeing up slots elsewhere in the chain. Anecdotal stories suggest that under the current system a candidate will occasionally be “number two” on the list of many departments, yet end up with no offers because “number one” delayed making a decision while waiting to hear from a particular school. It is hoped that a more uniform process will benefit both departments and candidates.

CRA recognizes that schools operate under different constraints, and no single set of guidelines will work for all schools. Moreover, CRA has no desire to “legislate” changes because it recognizes the need for each school to act in its best interests. Through discussions with selected departments, however, there appears to be general agreement on a set of principles for revamping the recruiting process, which will improve the climate for all schools and candidates as well. These general principles include:

  1. Beginning the search process earlier in the academic year can help ease backlog at the end of the year. As a consequence, it is suggested that a date of November 15 be used as an initial application deadline.
    •  We understand that some schools cannot commit to a specific date because local regulations bar them from considering any applications submitted after that date. We do not expect schools operating under such constraints to use a formal deadline, but hope they will adjust their schedules to encourage submissions prior to November 15.
    •  We understand that some schools may not know whether they have been allocated slots by their administration in sufficient time to advertise positions subject to this date, due to constraints from state legislatures or other governing bodies. We would hope that such schools would still commit to the principle of accelerating the review process as much as possible, relative to those constraints.
    •  We understand that schools do not want to enforce a hard deadline, especially one this early in the academic year, as some candidates may still be deciding on their timetables and career paths. Nonetheless, we believe that by making the target date earlier in the academic year, the triage of applications can occur earlier in the season and ease the pressure during the final stages of searching.
  2. The principle of speeding up the end process is generally agreed upon. But setting specific dates by which all interviews have taken place and all offers have been issued is not something on which all schools can agree. However, there are several principles that are generally accepted that will improve the recruiting process. Specifically:
    • Schools would commit to issuing declinations as early as possible. This has two forms. First, candidates who are not going to be invited for an interview would be informed as soon as decisions on interviews have been made. We understand that schools may wish to keep in reserve a pool of candidates for a possible interview in a second round, but candidates who are in neither the initial interview pool nor the reserve pool would be informed of the school’s decision. Second, where possible, rather than waiting until all interviews have taken place, schools would commit to informing interviewees as soon as possible that an offer will not be forthcoming. Again, we expect that schools may wish to keep a reserve pool of candidates while they wait to hear back on offers made or until they are able to make final decisions. But in cases where the school clearly feels that a candidate will not be receiving an offer, they will inform that candidate as soon as possible.
  3. Although no specific date is acceptable to all schools, schools would support the principle of completing all interviews and extending offers before May 1 of each year.

As noted, these are principles or guidelines which, if generally followed, can ease the recruiting process for all schools. Support of these guidelines does not in any way bind a school to meeting specific deadlines.

The following schools have discussed these suggestions and support them in principle, subject to local needs and variations:

  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Cornell University
  • Georgia Tech
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Princeton University
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • University of Texas, Austin
  • University of Washington

All nine schools will try to move the process forward as far as possible during the current academic year (2008-09), and are committed to following these guidelines in 2009-10 (noting that individual circumstances may preclude hard deadlines).

Eric Grimson is a Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a member of the CRA Board of Directors. Other board members who participated in preparing this proposal include: Annie Anton (North Carolina State), J Strother Moore (University of Texas at Austin), David Notkin (University of Washington), Jennifer Rexford (Princeton University), Marc Snir (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign), and Laura Haas (IBM Almaden Research Center).

Faculty Recruitment Timelines: Proposal for Change