Inclusion of Student Voices in the Faculty Hiring Process
Colleges and universities across the U.S. and beyond are striving to recruit and retain a diverse faculty that is representative of their student populations. Institutions have revamped their practices to ensure that faculty diversity is at the forefront of hiring considerations; everything from recruitment practices to committee trainings has been transformed with great care. A recent step taken by Austin Community College (ACC) to enhance its diversity efforts was to pilot the inclusion of the student voice when hiring full-time faculty. While it is standard practice to involve graduate students in the faculty hiring process at universities (Columbia University, 2016), few community colleges engage in similar practices. The spring 2021 pilot at ACC proved beneficial to the student participants, candidates, and hiring committees.
Murray (2010) laid the foundation for hiring in the community college environment with the following statement:
First, community colleges take enormous pride in placing teaching at the heart of their mission; and second, these colleges are strongly committed to an open-door philosophy that welcomes all. Consequently, faculty must be committed to and able to teach an extremely diverse student body. (p. 8)
Evelyn (2001) explained that community college hiring committees are searching for candidates who fit into the college’s community and understand their students. This begs the question: Who better to determine if a potential faculty member fits this diverse student body than the community members themselves?
Students bring a community perspective to the hiring process that should not be ignored. Biggus (2018) described it as a unique kind of wisdom “that should be tapped into and taken seriously when decisions are made that will primarily and most directly impact student experience” (para. 15). After launching a cluster hire at San Diego State University, Wood (2021) wrote that involving students “proved to be one of the most effective mechanisms of accountability because the students were able to weigh in on decisions and offer perspectives that others simply could not” (para. 14). During ACC’s pilot evaluation, hiring committee member Dr. Jed Stephens expressed, “I thought having [the student] perspective presented to us was valuable. They’ve got a pretty different perspective that deserves some attention” (J. Stephens, personal communication, September 22, 2021).
Student involvement in the hiring process at four-year institutions and in graduate schools can range from screening applications and participating as a full voting member to participating as a non-voting member (Biggus, 2018; Chemistry Graduate Life Committee, n.d.; Leiter, 2013). Often, the department selects one graduate student as a representative who shares the opinions of other students (Rutgers, 2021). The pilot at ACC started by involving two departments of varying sizes: Dance and Communication Studies. The Dance department allowed students to observe the recorded teaching demonstrations while Communication Studies invited students to the virtual teaching demonstrations. Although none of the students had voting privileges, students provided feedback via an approved rubric. The Communication Studies department welcomed the students to participate in the candidates’ questioning of the interview panel as well. The hiring committees reviewed the students’ rubric scores and comments, and participants completed a participation survey after the final interview. In all, 10 students participated in the hiring process and eight returned the follow-up survey.
While the level of student involvement for this pilot was minimal, students reaped numerous benefits, including the following:
- Opportunity to have a voice in the selection of their faculty
- Opportunity to experience a professional interview process
- Opportunity to network and interact with department faculty outside of the classroom
- Opportunity to earn volunteer hours
Student survey comments referenced these same benefits. When asked, “What did you learn from the experience?” responses included, “How a professional interview process works,” and “It helped me understand what the committee was looking for when screening the candidates.” Leiter (2013) recognized similar benefits where students reported learning a good deal about the profession and the facts of the professional market. The experience also contributes to building a pipeline of future professors as it causes students to pause and reflect upon their future ambitions. One student expressed a new appreciation for “valuing [the] learning experience, thinking about personal goals, what other skills . . . you may want to study, [and] appreciating the high quality of instruction at ACC.” When asked, “What do you believe are the benefits to participating in the faculty hiring process?” one student shared:
I learned how important hiring a qualified candidate is to ACC. It was enlightening to see what it looks like to be interviewed for a collegiate teaching position. I took away from the experience a new understanding of what preparedness and professionalism look like.
Another participant acknowledged the benefit of seeing how faculty interact with each other outside of class and viewing a professional interview with an “external eye.”
In addition to the anticipated benefits, the students’ appreciation of relationship building and feeling valued was an unexpected yet welcome surprise. Participating in the hiring process caused students to feel respected by the institution in ways they had not experienced before. They were invited to share their opinions, and those opinions were validated and taken under consideration. Trust developed. The students felt recognized and heard. For some, this emotional intimacy created a bond between the student and college with a further-reaching impact than one could imagine. A student summarized the experience as follows:
I am incredibly grateful to have been offered this opportunity! This truly made me feel that ACC cares about its students and values their opinions . . . I hope that ACC continues to listen to their students and engage them on and off-campus. . . . Something is being done very right here and I just want to see that continue for myself and the generations of students to come.
The author’s goal is to ensure that ACC continues engaging students in this manner while encouraging other colleges to adopt a similar process. Responses from the student feedback survey in Table 1 offer support for the continuation of the pilot as well. When asked in the survey if the students had anything else to share with the committee, more than half of the respondents expressed gratitude for the opportunity, with one student commenting, “I will never forget it!”
Although the students benefitted from this pilot project, they were not the only benefactors. Both committees were keenly aware that the students added a level of realism to the process that was sorely missing. Many faculty have observed interviews where faculty pretended to be students. With actual students participating in the teaching demonstrations, there was no pretending. The experience was real for the candidates. The Communication Studies committee witnessed, via Zoom, how candidates responded to students’ questions, behaviors, and participation. One student stepped away for a moment on purpose to see how the professor would respond when she returned and inquired about something he had just covered.
The students were diligent in following the rubric but also commented on pedagogical practices and teaching styles, the scaffolding of content, proficient use of technology, and candidates’ comfort levels. They noted the content reviews, in-class assessments, and group work afforded by some candidates. Unexpectedly, students were genuinely interested in whether the candidates seemed approachable and if they could see themselves being successful in their classes. They articulated a philosophical appreciation for the candidates who encouraged critical thinking and the connection to “current cultural happenings.” The students defined exemplary teaching without being asked and had no issues identifying interviewees who did or did not exemplify it.
Most enlightening was how candidates took advantage of their Q&A time with the committee and students. Several candidates bypassed asking the committee their first question and directed it toward the students instead. Candidates asked questions such as, “What is it like being a student at ACC?” and “What did ACC do to help you adjust to online classes?” Not only was it rewarding to hear the students’ responses, but it also demonstrated that the candidates recognized the students and their opinions and would most likely assume similar behavior in the classroom. Not all candidates took advantage of the opportunity.
In addition to the student and committee benefits, candidates who participated in the virtual teaching demonstrations also benefitted. They experienced the diversity of the college firsthand. Smith (2011) argued, in his efforts to link the hiring and retention of a diverse faculty to a broader definition of institutional excellence, that “diversity increases the attractiveness of the institution for persons from diverse backgrounds as a place to work and to develop” (p. 146). At ACC, the Communication Studies candidates witnessed that the students varied in age, race, and native languages and, thus, truly represented ACC. This experience allowed the historically underrepresented candidates to see a version of themselves sitting on the other side of the camera. Having a diverse representation of students participate in the teaching demonstration was a powerful way for the candidates to experience ACC’s diversity firsthand and to feel they belong at this institution.
The rewards of the initial pilot did not come without reservations. Confidentiality was a concern that the committee addressed by alerting students to the sensitivity of the information they would be exposed to and having them agree to a confidentiality statement prior to participating. Committee members were also apprehensive about students hearing criticisms about potential professors. While valid, students were only exposed to other student remarks, and the committee reserved their critiques for private deliberations.
Although daunting at first, recruitment proved successful by enlisting the help of Student Life, contacting instructors, and emailing student majors. Scheduling and ensuring student representation at each teaching demonstration absorbed administrative time, but it was manageable with the help of Google forms. The author recommends initiating the process as soon as the hiring committee is formed and acclimating the committee to the idea of student involvement from day one. She also recommends that institutions continue to think of additional ways to involve the students on a larger scale. For example, a faculty member recommended having students pose potential questions for the committee to consider.
The pilot project at Austin Community College proved to be a successful endeavor. The author would like to acknowledge the community colleges that identified the benefits years earlier and thank them for sharing their practices. While the new process at ACC benefitted the hiring committees and candidates, it profoundly affected the students, allowing them to feel valued and appreciated. At the same time, it moved the needle toward a more diverse faculty. Wood (2021) explained, “One of the most important ways a campus can convey its commitment to diverse students is to involve them in the hiring process” (para. 13). Now is the time for leadership at every level to call on their hiring committees to do the same and elevate the student voice in a decision that can potentially impact their lives forever.
Biggus, L. (2018, February 8). Make student involvement integral in hiring process. The Cowl. https://www.thecowl.com/opinion/make-student-involvement-integral-in-hiring-process
Chemistry Graduate Life Committee. (n.d.). Summary of student involvement in the hiring of junior faculty. University of California, Berkeley. https://cglc.cchem.berkeley.edu/dewi/faculty-hiring
Columbia University. (2016). Guide to best practices in faculty search and hiring. https://provost.columbia.edu/sites/default/files/content/BestPracticesFacultySearchHiring.pdf
Evelyn, J. (2001, June 15). The hiring boom at 2-year colleges. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 47(40), A8-A9.
Leiter, B. (2013, February 4). Student involvement in faculty hiring? Leiter reports: A philosophy blog. https://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2013/02/student-involvement-in-faculty-hiring.html
Murray, J. P. (2010). Preparing to hire the best in the perfect storm. New Directions for Community Colleges, (152), 5-14. https://doi.org/10.1002/cc.422
Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences. (2021). Appendix B: Guidelines for graduate participation in faculty recruitment. Student Handbook. https://sociology.rutgers.edu/academics/graduate/graduate-student-handbook/821-appendix-b-guidelines-for-graduate-participation-in-faculty-recruitment
Smith, D. G. (2011). Identifying talent, interrupting the usual. In L. M. Stulberg & S. L. Weinberg (Eds.), Diversity in American higher education: Toward a more comprehensive approach (pp. 142-152). Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Wood, J. L. (2021, September 7). 5 Ways to make a real improvement in hiring black professors. The Chronicle of Higher Education. https://www.chronicle.com/article/5-ways-to-make-a-real-improvement-in-hiring-black-professors
Theresa E. Glenn is Full-Time Faculty, Communication Studies, at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas, and in the Doctorate in Community College Leadership Program at Ferris State University.
Opinions expressed in Leadership Abstracts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.