Growing up in the city, I wished for a tree house as a personal and private hideout for me and my best friends, a place of fun and of comfort. If we create those same tree house sentiments through a student affairs hiring process, then it’s not a retreat but a fort of power and privilege used to exclude those we don’t know or like.
Television’s The West Wing used the term “in the room” to reference where pivotal decisions were made. Having been “in the room” for hiring decisions for undergraduates, graduates, and professionals, I can say that those discussions and decisions taught me some of the most valuable professional lessons. One disappointing one is that not all professionals respect the ethics of recruitment and hire processes or the people involved in them. Instead, some treat it as if it were their own personal tree house, minus the obvious signage: “Keep Out.” Sure, who wouldn’t enjoy working with those we enjoy the most rather than those we cannot stand even a little, or not even at all. However, if we proclaim inclusion, then we must adapt to the reality that we will not personally like one another equally or at all, including those we hire. We know that when we use hiring processes of a college or university to discriminate it’s illegal, but using processes to exclude those we don’t like personally, or simply don’t yet know, in order to surround ourselves with friends, or friends of friends, can be unethical and uninspiring to those who look to us to lead.
Sometimes we use words like “fit” as code to set candidates aside for various reasons, if only because we just want to hire the person we like better personally (regardless of process and performance); or we want to hire the perceived known out of fear of the unknown. Certainly the person hired needs to be a good match to the position, team, and the university, but we must remember that a university, especially a public one, is not our personal, private business. Student affairs professionals would benefit from better HR/EEOC training on hiring, greater dialogue and accountability regarding professional ethics, enhanced networking strategies (including social media), and more diverse staff to read/review files and interview comments so no qualified candidate is lost in a process. With so many candidates for any one position it’s unreasonable to know each one the same way. Still, it’s our responsibility to consider all qualified candidates. Hiring is not the time to be on the lookout for a new BFF to come and play. It’s a university, not a tree house.
When we’re fortunate to be “in the room,” we should honor each individual person being considered and those doing the considering. If there is no credibility to the ethics of a hire process, we will, in the end, further perpetuate the privilege, proximity, and power that undermine efforts at advocating for true diversity and access to opportunity for everyone.
Shane Cadden is a fifteen year professional actively seeking his next professional opportunity and currently living in Winter Springs, Florida. He is interested in people and places that pass the “I” test: inspiring, integrity, inclusion, intentional, and intellectually curious. Shane can be found on Twitter @scaddenFNL and at his blog http://ridingtheelevator.wordpress.com/.