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October 02, 2003
ACADEMIC-BLOGGING: I've mentioned reading resumes, and some people want to know what I'm talking about. It works like this.
We hire by committee (that's the Appointments Committee, which I'm chairing this year), with the full faculty voting. The Association of American Law Schools operates a central hiring registry, and candidates fill out a standardized resume form (and can attach their longer CVs if they want to). This is made available to schools, meaning that we get hundreds (around 900 so far; there are multiple distributions and we'll probably get a few hundred, or maybe several hundred, more) of those forms. We look at them all, though we pretty quickly eliminate the people who aren't teaching in the areas we're looking for. (Sometimes you're looking for the best overall person, more often you're looking to fill particular slots, which is what we're doing this year). We discuss the ones we like best, pick 25 or so to meet, and then meet them at a big hiring conference (known in the trade as the "meat market") where all the law schools and all the candidates get together.
We also read all the over-the-transom resumes that come in via the mail, sometimes from people who aren't participating in the AALS process. There are a few hundred of those. There's a lot of paper-flow to manage, and there are a lot of affirmative-action hoops it has to be managed through.
The conference interviews last 30 minutes. We'll pick the best 3-5 candidates from those and bring them back to campus where they'll make a presentation (a "job talk") on some scholarly item, usually a work in progress, and meet faculty members for a day or two. We'll also check references, and so on. Then the faculty will vote which candidates are acceptable, and rank them.
People who have done both tell me that this is a more streamlined and efficient system than is used in most of the humanities disciplines. It doesn't always seem that way, but it does minimize travel and paperwork, and the influence of "old boy" networks. (Though "minimize" isn't the same as "eliminate.") We're fortunate at Tennessee because the faculty is quite collegial, and not polarized about hiring, as it is some places.
What makes a good candidate? Good academic history -- top rank at a good law school, or a really top rank at a not-as-good law school, for example. References are very important, and so generally is a history of publication. Not having published isn't a deal-breaker, but the presumption is that people who have written serious scholarship before are likely to do it again, while people who haven't are a largely unknown quantity. We also value -- probably more than most schools -- things that suggest the person will be a good teacher. And we tend to value practice experience in the area a person will be teaching more than many schools, I think, though that varies somewhat by subject area.
So there you are. That's what's been keeping me busy lately. I'm not generally fond of committee work (few professors are) but I don't really mind this because it's very important. A good hire can make a real difference, while a bad one can, well, make a real difference of another sort. But (as I warned it might) it does leave less time -- and even less mental energy -- for blogging than I'd otherwise have. Sorry. But there's plenty of free ice cream, in lots of flavors, at the blogs linked on the left, and throughout the blogosphere.