ERIC Number: EJ930695
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2010-Jun-11
Reference Count: 0
Night Thoughts on Academic Searches
Trachtenberg, Stephen J.
New England Journal of Higher Education, Jun 2010
When a university, or any organization, and its recruiting firm set out to find a new leader, they usually begin and end in a delusion. They declare their intention to find the best person for the job and, once all the sorting and sifting are done, they announce that they have indeed found the best person for the job. The odds are they have done no such thing--and, more to the point, there is no way of knowing how good the last man or woman left standing after the interrogations, checking, and hazing really is. That is something the client and possibly the recruiter learn much later. In this article, the author makes his case that the way people choose new leaders is full of unreasonable behavior in the face of unreasonable expectations of "the best" while the most likely and perfectly satisfactory outcome of a search is to find "the best person available at the time" to the institution--that is, the person who somehow meets the consensus expectation of the various members of the search committee, no matter how well or badly the search is conducted. This consensus must disregard (and usually doesn't even contemplate) the strong possibility that the person best suited to the job never applied. Or the person the committee considered the best did not want the job, as it was in the author's case at The George Washington University. In the author's view, hiring a president for a shorter period is wasteful and will turn out to be disruptive. With this in mind, the committee members need to understand that the person they choose may outlast them on campus and will be dealing with realities--some of them unpleasant--that no one has foreseen or could. Nothing here is complex or hard to grasp, and still it's a tall order. Members of the search committee and the recruitment firm need to shed the Panglossian notion that they will find the best of all possible presidents for this best of all possible universities: They probably won't. With a more rational process in hand, the work of finding the new leader should flow more smoothly and with greater mental comfort for everyone involved if only because the unreasonable expectations of the perfect, or the best, arising out of a necessarily imperfect activity can be put aside. The search will still be a great deal of work and perhaps never be completely satisfactory--some things are inevitable--but it will be better than it would have been otherwise. And if done well and right, there is a bonus: The members of the committee will not have to do it again.
Descriptors: Recruitment, Higher Education, Admission (School), Selective Admission, College Presidents
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Higher Education
Authoring Institution: N/A