Hiring, Promotion, and Tenure: Understanding and Avoiding the Pitfalls

Hiring, promotion, and tenure activities are full of risk and potential landmines. Poor hiring decisions are not only costly, but the hiring process itself opens the institution up to litigation if everyone on the hiring committee is not trained properly.

In the recent online seminar, Avoid the Top Seven Mistakes in Hiring, Promotion and Tenure, Debi Moon, assistant vice president of educational affairs at Georgia Perimeter College, and Rob Jenkins, associate professor of English at Georgia Perimeter College, outlined the most common personnel missteps colleges and universities make, and how to correct them.

One of the big new challenges for higher education institutions today with regards to hiring is the emergence of social media, says Moon. Many people have an active presence on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or other social networks, making it relatively easy for hiring committees to learn more about candidates than what they include in their hiring materials. Unfortunately, due to its newness, few institutions have established a policy for how social media fits within the overall hiring procedures.

Moon also talked about the importance of staying on script when interviewing candidates and only asking the approved questions, even if you’re just making small talk and the “interview” hasn’t officially begun. It’s during these rapport-building times that slip-ups can happen, which is why many institutions have stopped taking candidates to lunch or dinner.

While the hiring process is a perilous journey, promotion and tenure decisions have their share of pitfalls as well – ranging from hurt feelings to litigation. Oftentimes department chairs will give faculty evaluations that only mention what the instructor is doing well – in very glowing but general terms. But it’s just as important to provide constructive criticism and identify areas for improvement. Otherwise, says Jenkins, “you’re telling them year after year how well they’re doing and then all of a sudden they’re not good enough for a promotion or tenure. They’re completely blindsided.”

According to Moon and Jenkins, the seven mistakes in hiring, promotion and tenure are:

  1. Not providing adequate Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) training for all faculty and administrators involved in the hiring process.
  2. Not providing training or assistance in the writing of job descriptions and interview questions.
  3. Ignoring social networking sites when reviewing materials for new hires and/or not having a policy on what materials to consider for candidates.
  4. Treating adjuncts as if they are less valuable than full-time faculty by not providing adequate professional development.
  5. Not writing candid evaluations with constructive criticism.
  6. Not understanding the parameters of academic freedom in the classroom and campus life.
  7. Failure to provide proactive audits of potential pitfalls in the system, update policies, or require regular training for all administrators.