The Facade of Fit in Faculty Search Processes

Various concerns regarding the vitality and racial/ethnic composition of the academic profession have prompted new study of faculty search committees and hiring paradigms, most notably examining the term “fit” in candidate appraisals. Yet no study utilizes a candidate evaluation framework to investigate whether or not faculty members truly assess for fit, or if these assessments stifle diversification processes, especially in light of pervasive institutional efforts to reform faculty hiring. This study uses a critical person-environment fit framework and multiple case study methods to investigate how faculty search committee members individually evaluate and collectively select prospective early-career faculty. Results indicate that fit, as system of assumptions, practices, and tactics designed to evaluate and select candidates based on organizational needs, was minimal in faculty searches. Instead, faculty relied heavily on idiosyncratic preferences to evaluate research, teaching, and service credentials, which also contained criterion that directly and indirectly averted diversity. Findings reveal how the review and selection of candidates is as much, if not more, about individual committee preferences than organizational demands or congruence.