Inside Higher Ed, Study Finds the Concept of Faculty Fit in Hiring Is Vague and Potentially Detrimental to Diversity Efforts:
Faculty search committees often pick candidates based on their supposed fit. But rather than a defined metric, fit is a highly subjective concept that opens the door to racial and other biases, according to a new study in The Journal of Higher Education [The Facade of Fit in Faculty Search Processes].
Beyond providing a novel analysis of faculty fit and its implications for diversity, the paper is also a fascinating window into the pre-COVID-19 hiring process in general. The study confirms what many already believe or suspect about academic hiring: that it typically privileges perceived research impact over all else and that it runs on what’s been called cloning bias, or homophily.
Still, the paper doesn’t vilify the concept of fit altogether. Instead, it advocates standardizing fit, such as through the use of jointly designed rubrics, to uncover and calibrate search committee members’ preferences and to promote diversity.
Author Damani K. White-Lewis, a postdoctoral scholar in counseling, higher education and special education at the University of Maryland at College Park, said recently that fit, “both as coded language and an overall model of candidate evaluation, is poorly suited to justify academic hiring decisions.”
At the same time, he said, “If we can get away from using [fit] so blanketly, there may be opportunities to use design thinking to promote more equitable hiring.” ...
White-Lewis recommends that institutions adopt criterion-based fit processes and, more generally, equity-driven evaluation procedures. While using hiring rubrics did not eliminate biases in some of the searches studied, he wrote that “jointly creating and calibrating rubrics allows faculty to explicitly state and defend their own leanings, expose their biases, and ensures that equal and fair criterion is applied consistently.”
Rubrics must also include equity considerations, he said, to challenge the status quo of “guarded discussions around racial equity” and “convert biases related to engaged research, teaching, and service into competitive advantages necessary to support twenty-first century learners.” ...
George Justice, professor of English at Arizona State University and author of How to Be a Dean (and an opinion contributor to Inside Higher Ed), said he doesn’t believe in fit, as it's "almost always an excuse to make a bad hire." “I always believe in hiring for excellence, which I believe strongly will increase diversity. I also believe strongly in some kinds of targeted hiring for diversity and excellence,” he said.
Justice said that he views fit as “always idiosyncratic,” and that instead of fit, search committees should set "explicit criteria of excellence."