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The Facade of Fit and Preponderance of Power in Faculty Search Processes: Facilitators and Inhibitors of Diversity


Slow progress in diversifying the professoriate has prompted renewed interest in faculty search processes. Yet little remains understood about the interlocking individual-, committee-, and departmental-level dimensions that facilitate and/or inhibit faculty diversity. The purpose of this study is to investigate how faculty search committee members individually evaluate and collectively select prospective early career faculty. The conceptual framework guiding the study weaves several theories: person-environment fit to test a normative model of intrapersonal candidate evaluation, power to understand committee and departmental dynamics, and critical race theory (CRT) to comprehend how both perpetuate inequities. This multiple embedded case study triangulated 31 semi-structured interviews with administrators, deans, department chairs, search committee members, and documents across four disciplines.

Results indicate the conditions that marginalize candidates of color in faculty search processes. Fit, as a system of assumptions, practices, and tactics designed to evaluate and select candidates based on organizational needs, was minimized in faculty searches. Instead, faculty relied mostly on idiosyncratic preferences to evaluate research, teaching, and service credentials, which were laced with direct and indirect criteria that implicate race and ethnicity. Faculty deliberations were bound by a normative climate of collegiality, as well as expert and legitimate power, which impacted the strategies faculty used to communicate and actualize their preferences to colleagues. Deans, department chairs, and departmental colleagues also impacted search procedures and outcomes through establishing hiring priorities, interventions, and theories of change, which had varying degrees of power and attention to diversity, dependent on the case.

Findings on the fa�ade of fit and use of power reveal how the review and selection of candidates is as much, if not more, about committee interactions, elevating departmental reputation, and larger institutional dynamics than about the candidates themselves. Implications lead to critically reframing current interventions in the faculty hiring praxis and research. Results also reveal potential new avenues for increasing faculty diversity, such as reconfiguring how departmental hiring priorities are generated, and reimagining how departmental and institutional interventions are designed, enacted, and enforced.

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