What is your college or university doing about its ongoing faculty searches in light of the COVID-19 outbreak?

Many colleges and universities in the US and elsewhere are switching to remote classes for the rest of the term, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak. My own university just asked faculty to start planning in case we decide to do the same.

But of course, teaching classes isn’t the only thing profs have to do. For instance, right now, I’m sitting on a search committee for a tenure-track faculty position in evolutionary/comparative biomechanics in my department. The application deadline is coming up Mar. 18. We were hoping to arrange on-campus interviews ASAP after the deadline, with the goal of having the successful applicant start by Sept. 1.

Here’s the question we’re currently thinking about: What if we can’t hold on-campus interviews? How should we run the search? Any suggestions? I’m sure some of you must be going through the same thing, or have thoughts on how best to proceed. Looking forward to your comments.

p.s. As I hope goes without saying, “How should we conduct our faculty search during the COVID-19 outbreak?” is far from the most urgent issue in the grand scheme of things. In posing this question, I am not implying otherwise. I’m just doing all that most of us can do in this situation: trying to keep myself and those around me healthy, and trying to minimize the negative short- and long-term impacts of the outbreak on those around me.

15 thoughts on “What is your college or university doing about its ongoing faculty searches in light of the COVID-19 outbreak?

  1. It’s not quite the same, but I have an interview in France (CNRS) set for the end of March. For now, it seems that it is supposed to take place as planned. But, with the rate things are developing, I guess this can change quite fast.

  2. We have two searches going at UMaine (and I’m on the committee for one). So far the university has cited faculty searches as one of the few exempt forms of travel (but candidates could still choose not to come or this could change). It is perhaps worth noting that there is not a lot of public health recommendations against one or a few individuals traveling to meet one or a few individuals between areas with roughly equivalent >0 levels of infection (or at least that’s what I’ve seen – I’d be very happy to be pointed to evidence to the contrary). Its the multiplier situations (traveling to conferences, thousands of students returning from spring break to enter high density, close quarters dorms, large events with 100s of people in close proximity) that are the key focal point (at least so far)

    A complete Zoom (or equivalent technology) is the obvious alternative. One-on-one meetings, meeting with grad students, even the job talk are all conceivable this way. We do a teaching session as well – it’s harder for me to imagine how this is going to be as revealing over zoom as in person (especially with our undergraduate students gone). And,a key point of faculty interviews is assessing collegiality which is way easier to do around a dinner table than over zoom. So zoom is definitely possible, but to my mind definitely loses a non-trivial amount.

    One possibility would be to do zoom interviews and then invite just the one finalist from zoom onto campus (both so you can do a last face-to-face check for collegiality and because its not fair to ask somebody to commit to moving when they’ve never seen the place).

    Another possibility which is my least-preferred is to defer the search (preferably out of fairness to this years candidates by freezing the pool at what ever point its been narrowed down to, communicating, and then resuming sometime in the fall). But I don’t think there are any guarantees that things are better in the fall and there are lots of practical down sides to deferring. During the crash of 2009 many searches were cancelled (sometimes even after offers were made) and that adversely affected a cohort of job searchers for several years. I would want to avoid this scenario.

    Not sure what we’re going to do yet. Its a rapidly evolving situation unfortunately and what looked reasonable one week can look insane a few weeks later.

    • “It is perhaps worth noting that there is not a lot of public health recommendations against one or a few individuals traveling to meet one or a few individuals between areas with roughly equivalent >0 levels of infection (or at least that’s what I’ve seen – I’d be very happy to be pointed to evidence to the contrary)”

      Hmm. I’ve seen mixed advice on that, and the advice seems to be changing fast from what I’ve seen. Not an expert obviously! But look at, say, this recent Atlantic piece quoting some public health experts (https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/03/coronavirus-what-does-social-distancing-mean/607927/). At least some of them are saying that people should avoid being within 6-10 feet of other people unless it’s essential. As in, *any* other people. Flying someone in for a campus interview might well oblige them to get within 6-10 feet of other people during their travel, and while on campus. So how “essential” is it for someone to come for a campus interview? But those same experts also say it’s still ok to (say) go to the gym, so long as you avoid close contact as much as possible, all surfaces people touch are disinfected regularly, everyone washes their hands a lot, etc. So does that mean bringing somebody in for a campus interview is ok, so long as we don’t shake hands, sit as far apart from one another in the room as possible, disinfect doornobs and tables often, etc.?

      • Anecdote, not fact, but from what I’m hearing it might be pretty easy to keep 2 meters distance in airplanes and airports given how empty they are. But of course if a candidate feels uncomfortable flying, no one would want to question that or push them to do so.

      • Heh. It had occurred to me (and I’m sure to many others) that just at the moment the best way to practice social distancing might be to go to the airport and get on a plane. 🙂 (I’m kidding, obviously, this is not a serious suggestion)

  3. Today, as part of an email with many changes (including moving all undergraduate and graduate courses to remote instruction) my university made this decision “At this time, departments are asked to reschedule or virtualize all non-essential searches to the extent possible. If a search is underway, and some candidates have completed in-person visits, we encourage you to postpone the remainder of visits (rather than conducting them virtually), in the interest of ensuring that all candidates are treated equitably.”

    • Interesting. We have another ongoing search in our dept that I’m not involved in, for which some campus interviews had already been conducted. I’ve heard we are now scrambling to switch the remaining campus interview (of an international candidate) to a skype/zoom interview on the originally-scheduled date next week. Because the international candidate can no longer fly here due to international travel restrictions (I’m not clear exactly what restrictions or who imposed them…). For budgetary reasons, it sounds like we are not going to be able to postpone campus visits for ongoing searches, including the search I’m involved in (?). But I agree with you, it’s much fairer for all candidates to either have campus interviews, or else all have skype/zoom interviews. For that reason, it’s possible that the search I’m involved in might end up doing all skype/zoom interviews–we’ll see!

  4. It may not seem urgent on the search side, but it may well be for the candidates! I have an interview that had been pushed back and now might have to be by zoom. There is no way that is going to be my best way of giving a job talk (I totally feed off of my audience when I present), nor 1:1 meetings. I am supposed to do a second interview at another place. Currently they plan on me coming there, but that may change. My funding runs out this summer – delayed searches could mean no income for me and others.

    • Oh, it seems very urgent to us on the search side too! We want to hire someone who will be here for decades. We want to hire the best person, and we definitely don’t want to hire someone who isn’t collegial or can’t do the job well. It’s a super-important decision for us, and we really, really want to make the best decision. And we also know that it’s super-important for applicants as well, for the reasons you give.

      When I wrote that “how should we conduct our faculty search” is far from the most urgent issue associated with COVID-19, what I mostly meant was it’s not as urgent as issues faced by public health authorities and national policymakers. Issues like ensuring sufficient availability of medical staff and ventilators, creating economic policies to ward off a severe recession, etc.

  5. My college has shut down, with in-person classes suspended and no visitors allowed on campus. We are now doing interviews over zoom/skype, including job talks. It’s not optimal, but it’s the best we can do under the circumstances.

  6. We are continuing our search for Waterfowl Biologist position. Application deadline was shifted a couple weeks to March 31. Will start screening by committee from there, then we’ll see. Possibly first cut will be by Webex.

  7. Pingback: Data Science newsletter – March 17, 2020 | Sports.BradStenger.com

  8. As a prospective tenure track faculty candidate, I find myself in the same quandary. Some have said, “oh we’ll just do a virtual tour” or “let’s do a podcast or FaceTime” and perhaps that works on a theoretical level. However, as a prospective future faculty member I gain so much information from the in-person, face to face, and observational aspects of the interview process that one simply cannot get from the virtual realm. An additional layer is travel. Since most of the universities I’m seriously considering are far away (2-4 hr flights which converts to 30-58 hrs driving time), an entire different sets of issues arise. Interviewing is a serious and vital component in finding a good match on both sides. Perhaps one option is to extend an offer for remote teaching with a guaranteed in person interview when things improve.

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