Bull market for faculty search

In the next few weeks, Committee on Appointments and Promotions (CAP) will decide whether or not to delay approved job searches in certain academic departments. We have written previously that this is precisely the wrong part of the budget on which to skimp, and while the CAP promises only to delay – not cancel – authorized job searches, we hope the College and the CAP will let the majority of these searches continue unimpeded.

A time of crisis is a time of opportunity, and for Williams the current crisis represents an opportunity to secure a new generation of first-rate teachers and scholars. In this economic environment, Williams is one of few institutions with the resources to continue to hire, which means that the application pool for any tenure-track position will be more competitive than under ordinary conditions. This is a time when Williams might be able to secure the kind of professors who will anchor departments for generations of students to come. Additionally, the current job climate is precisely when Williams would be most likely to achieve long-term hiring goals such as diversifying the faculty or strengthening traditionally hard-to-staff departments such as economics. President Schapiro is exactly right when he says that there is one market in which Williams stands to make a killing right now: the market for top-rate academic talent.

It will be no easy task to convince the Board of Trustees to splurge on faculty as the value of the endowment plummets, but it is important that the College realize that such savings are a false economy. Adjunct or visiting faculty can seem like an attractive option in a troubled time – after all, such a position can be terminated when the market tanks, while a tenure commitment is expected to last for 40 years. Nevertheless, visiting faculty in general, although with notable exceptions, constitute a bad return on investment. Visiting professors are proven to be less popular on student evaluations, and more importantly they cannot take the necessary view that undergraduate education is an ongoing relationship, not a one-year fling.

And so we hope that when the CAP meets, the cooler heads will prevail. After all, most job searches are themselves multi-year processes and disrupting them even temporarily now will likely continue to affect the Class of 2015. This is precisely the time to be pressing forward with hires, not scaling them back. Whatever happens to our financial reserves, it is imperative that we not neglect our human resources.