Tuesday, February 1, 2011

regional preferences in hiring

I'm applying for a job in the greater-NYC metro region. It's not an archaeology job, but it's in a related field where I'm qualified. While looking at the faculty in that department, however, I noted an odd pattern: every faculty member (every single one!) got their PhD at a university in New York City or New Jersey. This included degrees from institutions I hadn't even realized granted PhDs. (Drew University grants PhD's? Who knew?)

When I first went on the job market, I was warned that elite East Coast institutions tend to hire from elite East Coast institutions. I was also warned that smaller universities in the South tend to hire applicants from the South (more on this later). My current institution, Tiny U, has a much higher percentage of faculty from this state/region than you would expect. Partly, this is self-selecting (many people won't apply here, and those who get the job and stay often have some tie to the region.) But, partly, there is real interest on the part of search committees in finding someone who will be a willing and eager colleague for years to come. One way to do this is to hire someone with local ties, who at least knows what they are getting into when they come here! (No, seriously, this is a problem. We've lost candidates who withdrew from the search after seeing the town on their campus visit. We've had tenure-track faculty quit their jobs because their spouse takes one look around when he/she arrives, says "no way in hell", and heads back to the city.)

I understand why universities in so-called "less desirable" areas may preferentially hire people with local ties. But I don't understand why this seems so common. I applied for a job a few years ago at a third-tier state school in a large, centrally-located city that shall not be named. Fully 75% of the faculty at the school had PhDs from the only PhD-granting institution in the city, a well-respected private school. Why was this state school hiring locally? I don't know, but I wonder if they had a pattern of hiring their own adjuncts. Perhaps that was a good strategy for them - they knew they were hiring good colleagues and teachers - but they were located in a reasonably desirable market, and could easily have hired faculty from around the country, if they chose. The same is true for the school in the greater NYC area where I'm currently applying. It's in a highly desirable location, by many people's standards. Why should they limit their faculty to the cast of Jersey Shore?*

That pernicious beast "fit" is rearing its head again. Honestly, hiring biases toward certain regions don't bother me, although I don't think it is in the best interests of most institutions. The problem is, if you prefer your colleagues to be from the same region as you, there may also be a tendency to prefer them to be the same race, or the same gender, or the same political out-look.

So, break out of your comfort-zone, search committee members! Live dangerously; hire someone from Connecticut.
*Disclaimer: I've never actually seen Jersey Shore, and the only thing I know about it is that the cast is largely orange and there's a woman named Pooki, or something, who is a friend of John McCain's and reminds me (oddly) of my sister-in-law. I'm sure the cast of the show bears no resemblance whatsoever to the faculty at this university. Most of them probably voted for Obama.

1 comment:

  1. Oddly, many West Coast institutions (including non-elite ones!) appear to hire mainly West Coast graduates as well. I would think many people from all over the country would love to move to the West Coast, given half a chance. Very strange. I understand the concern with "fit" and retaining faculty members, but parts of it are soooo frustrating...