It’s July 31, 2013 and we are just finishing the last appointments for the 2013-14 academic year which begins August 1, 2013, tomorrow! It is a long process that begins by departmental faculty forming position announcements for positions that have budgetary approval. These announcements must be approved by their Dean and the Provost and then posted in a variety of places (our website, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU), The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other specialized places). This usually happens in August and September. Often faculty members on the search committee or in the department will call or write colleagues or places with which they have professional affiliation to seek out promising candidates. We actively seek those whom we know might be interested and who will contribute to the university.
When letters and applications arrive, the search committee begins to review and winnow them until they are down to a half dozen or less. Then a series of phone or Skype interviews are scheduled, and the committee works until they have at least two applicants who are each invited to a 1-2 day visit to the campus. This visit includes meetings with the search committee and dean, the department, President and Provost, and an open meeting for all to attend. During almost every visit, we ask the candidate to teach a class for a period of time, and if there is not a class available, they demonstrate their teaching by holding a mock class session with we who are already faculty members as students.
When all is done—all the visits completed, all the reference calls made—the search committee makes a recommendation to their Dean, who makes a recommendation to the Provost, who consults with the President who makes the final approval to offer an appointment to the faculty candidate. We want to be in agreement on the appointment. Sometimes we cannot get agreement and we have to start over. Normally we begin to finish the process in January or February, but sometimes it takes until July 31, as it has this year.
Why do we spend so much time and direct so much of our resources to this work? And what do we look for in faculty candidates? The first question is easy. When we appoint a faculty member as a professor at FPU much of the time we are making a 25, 30, or 35 year decision. We are appointing someone who will join with us in teaching, guiding, and developing our academic programs and students. We are finding a colleague who will deliver our central product (to use business terms), education. It is a great responsibility both for the appointed professor and for the committee recommending the appointment. We want to make a good 25, 30 or 35 year decision.
The second question is much more difficult, but I will outline it as simply as I can. The candidate must meet criteria in three broad areas.
The candidate must first be a scholar with mind and heart engaged in his or her academic discipline. They must have a terminal degree in their field, usually a doctorate, or be well on their way to earning one. We want to see a potential professor who is not only trained in a particular discipline, but also one who has a breadth of knowledge that enhances their specialized training and brings breadth and depth to the faculty as a whole. In the university of today, this also means that all professors are active scholars, contributing in some way to their professional discipline and ready to bring students, whether undergraduate or graduate, into that work, into collaborative research, writing, or creation of some kind. We look at where they have studied, what they have written or created, who they have studied with. We look for a candidate who is an actively engaged scholar who will add a new dimension to the academic dialog on the campus.
The candidate must also be an excellent teacher and communicator. The scholarship mentioned above serves to enhance teaching. Teaching is an art, and many of the disciplines have norms and patterns of teaching and learning. The professor must be able to communicate with students of all kinds, use multiple ways of presentation and appropriation of academic content and ways of understanding. Today that also means the faculty member might be expected to have experience with online education, or current social media. This is usually no problem for the younger candidates, and is somewhat confusing to search committee members who have been around (like me) for 25, 30 or 35 years. To be a teaching professor one must be dedicated to learning and to assisting students in learning. Enthusiasm for teaching and for their academic specialty is one of the primary qualities of an effective teacher. As our Dean of Education, Dr. Gary Gramenz, explains to me, effective teachers have positive “dispositions” toward their work and students. They seek the success of their students, they love them and the academic work they do.
- At Fresno Pacific, all faculty also must be committed Christians who are spiritually mature enough to mentor and guide students. All faculty members must assent to our statement of faith, or our “theological orientation” grounded in Evangelical and Anabaptist ways of being a follower of Christ. But this does not mean that all must be Mennonite or even Evangelical. About 30% of our professors come from Mennonite Brethren, Mennonite or other Anabaptist traditions. Another 40 to 50% worship in Evangelical churches. We have professors of almost every denomination from non-denominational to Baptist, Charismatic, mainline Methodist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran, to Anglican, Episcopalian, Orthodox and Catholic. What holds all of this together? With all of the possible differences a faculty member must know Christ as “Savior and Lord” to use Evangelical language, though they might explain this commitment in the words of another Christian tradition. Every professor at FPU understands that the Holy Bible is the primary authority for faith and life. And every professor is actively a part of some Christian body—a church, a fellowship, a home church. We are not solitary Christians; we are members of the Church universal and of some local congregation. Each professor must work toward the “integration of faith and learning” in their discipline and teaching. That is, their Christian commitment should make difference in how they understand, approach, and teach their discipline—more on this another time.
We also look for a number of other factors: diversity among our faculty (ethnic and gender), international experience, and the ability to teach in interdisciplinary arrangements (part of our Liberal Arts character). Much of this is done early in the process as we actively seek and invite diverse candidates to apply, and make connections in our academic networks and beyond them.
Finally we look for someone who shows that they are alive to the work we are doing, to the community we share in, and who will join with us in this “adventure.” What this looks like is explained or described in The Fresno Pacific University Idea, our statement of who and what we aspire to be as an academic community. We are a “Christian University,” a “Community of Learners,” and “Prophetic.” This is also perhaps a topic for another time.
Sometimes I am amazed when we get it done by July 31, just in time for another year of searching. I have a couple of position announcements for the coming year to review and approve on my desk right now.