The other day I was invited to join Professor Mike Rowe and two other senior members of the department to look over the applications that we have had for our recently advertised new member of staff so that we could come up with an interview short list. Our deliberations are, of course, supposed to be completely confidential so I can't tell you what really happened in the meeting. But by altering some of the facts I can still give you a flavour of the kind of dilemmas we faced and the arguments that were made.
Present at the meeting: Professor Michael Rowe (Head of Department), Dr Gus Johns (Deputy Head of Department), Professor Tony Steel (Chair of the Faculty Research Committee), Mrs Molly May (Department Administrative Assistant).
Professor Rowe opened the meeting by saying how gratified he was that there had been such an excellent response to the advertisments for the post - there were over 60 very well qualified candidates (and a few no hopers who obviously couldn't read the job requirements carefully enough!). He said that he hoped that we had all had a chance to look over the applications to select our front runners and that the purpose of the meeting was to come up with a short list of four candidates for interview, with maybe a couple more who could go on standby in case any of the top four were to withdraw before the interview. Mrs May had a proforma for us to record our decisions. He wondered if we could go round the room listing our top four candidates in the hope that it woud be possible for us to reach a concensus without having to go through all the candidates. Mrs May said that might help us to choose our shortlist but we would still have to go through all the candidates recording whether or not they met the job description and noting reasons for them not being chosen for interview. A frustrated look crossed Professor Rowe's face but he said nothing.
After a short pause Professor Rowe looked at Professor Steel and said "Tony, perhaps we could start with your top four?" "Yes, certainly Mike. I like the look of the two Greeks, the German and the Belgian guy. They all have PhDs from prestigious universities, a good selection of publications in top journals and good records in obtaining grants and other external funding." "OK", said Mike "How do you rank them exactly?" "I'd put the Dr Mavros top and then the other Greek, followed by the German and then the Belgian" was the reply.
"Gus, you can go next. What do you think?" said Rowe. "Well Mike, I have a slightly different take on it as I don't want us to get too fixated just on research and the REF. The new person will have to carry some kind of a teaching load, especially as this single appointment is all you could get the Dean to agree with to cover the two people who left us. Someone has to come in and teach the postgraduate core theory course and we need a bit more cover for econometrics classes too. I would like to include our own Sian O'Driscoll on the list, especially as we are rather short of women in the department since Martha and Pat left. Sian completed her PhD here last year, she already has a couple of publications and she has been taking classes in micro and econometrics for us for three years now, getting excellent reports from students. And we mustn't neglect the National Student Survey. Students won't like it if they get another lecturer in front of them who they can't understand. And we really should try to bring through some of our own students who recognise the kind of university that we have here". "I agree that the Greeks look good, although we already have several of them in the department" he said, looking at me. "But I would put Sian on our list rather than the Belgian guy".
"With respect" said Steel "Sian's publications don't really measure up to the Belgian guy's and we can't discriminate on gender or nationality." "The Dean has made it very clear that she wants to push research and with only one post available that must be our priority. And if you are worried about whether the guy can teach we shall be asking them to do the usual mini-lecture in the morning so that we can screen out anybody that just can't be put in a classroom". A look of irritation spread over John's face. "Last time we gave you our views on the mini-lectures we made it quite clear that you know who wasn't up to the job and yet in the afternoon you still went ahead and appointed him" he said. Back came Steel. "He did really well in the interview, and anyway, he is going to get a nice big ESRC grant and we will be able to buy back his teaching time. Maybe we can use the money to keep Sian on in her part time role." "Isn't that a bit dishonest?" said Johns. "If we want to hire a full time researcher then that is what we should advertise for, not get someone in on a normal contract and then get a part-timer to do the teaching". "No" replied Steel, "it seems like good economics to me!"
"Kostas" said Professor Rowe. "Who would you go for?" "Well" I replied " Dr Mavros would be top of my list, followed by the German and the Belgian. But I would actually put the Estonian in as my fourth choice as he looks to be a top Game Theory man".
"I agree with you" said Rowe. So I think that leaves us with a top four of Dr Mavros, the German, the Belgian and the Estonian. Then the other Greek guy and Sian can be on our reserve list. I can see what Gus means about having more women, and people who know the kind of university that we are and all that. If we had been able to get two posts approved I would be more willing to back Sian but, as Tony says, we must put our research effort first. And I think we will be doing Sian a big favour even just putting her on the list with a chance that she might get some interview experience. There are several other applicants we are ignoring who look just as good as her." "Now, I am rather busy, so can I leave the rest of you here with Molly to complete all the paperwork and comply with what we need to write about the candidates that we are not inviting in for interview. Molly, when it is all done please bring it into my office and I will sign it off".
And with that he was off leaving us to spend a tortuous hour and a half completing the paperwork with Molly. "Looks like we will be getting yet another Greek" she said, glancing over at me.