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Archive for Thursday, March 27, 2003

Hiring practices

March 27, 2003

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Does an open interview process attract the best possible candidates for important Kansas University jobs?

Years ago, Kansas University had a dean of men and a dean of women who, as the titles might suggest, were focused on how to make the university experience as successful and as enjoyable as possible for men and women students.

For some reason, these titles and positions were eliminated and replaced with a new office of "vice provost for student support." By the way, this position was filled admirably over a 25-year period by David Ambler.

Ambler retired, and now university officials are in the process of interviewing candidates for yet another renamed office, the "vice provost of student success." What will be the next name for this office? "Vice provost to make students feel wanted and appreciated"?

Seriously, why are the name changes needed, and, even more important, why must KU, as well as many other schools, identify those they are interviewing for a vacant position?

Why would anyone who is happy and successful in his or her current job want to apply for a job that results in his or her current employer learning of the individual's interest in leaving and seeking a job on another campus?

Although KU officials are sure to claim they have had great success in hiring top individuals to fill holes in the school's administrative and academic fabric, one has to wonder what the end result might have been if the interviews and identity of applicants had been held in confidence.

Some schools across the country have steered away from this public process, saying they did not think they could attract the caliber of candidates they sought if they identified those being interviewed.

It would seem the best way to fill important jobs, really all jobs, is to look around, see who is doing a good job elsewhere, who is recognized as a leader in their field, and then see if that person might be interested in making a move.

The practice followed by KU, however, and many other schools is to advertise an open position and tell anyone interested how to apply. It's not known whether KU officials also take the initiative to identify individuals who are looked upon as leaders in their fields and try to recruit them to come to KU. If the school finds it wise to recruit the best high school students and best high school athletes, why not follow the same practice when filing administrative positions?

It would be interesting to know who responds to such advertising and ends up being interviewed. Are they people who are unhappy where they are, perhaps people out of work or those hoping to use the KU opening as leverage to get a salary increase at their current job?

The way the process works at KU is just about the same as what livestock go through at an American Royal in Kansas City, the National Western Stock Show in Denver or a 4-H livestock show at the Douglas County Free Fair.

Applicants or candidates are paraded before students at one forum and before faculty and staff at another forum. They are held up for public judging and whomever gets the blue ribbon is offered the job.

In this process, applicants have sent a clear message to their current employers that they are looking for a change. In some cases, there may be applicants who are using this technique to try to gain salary advantages or promotions at their current jobs, but letting it be known they have applied for another job also carries risks.

Currently, there are several open positions at KU: director of admissions, dean of the School of Fine Arts and vice provost for student success. It's hoped each of these posts will be filled by truly outstanding individuals who will help make the university an even finer academic institution.

However, the manner by which KU goes about filling vacancies reduces the odds of enticing superior candidates to seek the jobs regardless of how some at KU defend the practice.

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