Expand and Contract
After two years, I think that the search committee here has finally found a candidate whom we want to hire. I've not been on the committee, not officially, although I've been keenly interested in their deliberations and have often made my opinions and preferences known to the members.
Last year there was a split in the committee, with two candidates -- one of whom was my favorite, and would have made a great colleague who would have underscored a particular substantive and theoretical direction for the program; the other of whom was a real piece of work, someone who didn't understand their own argument, and someone who would have been a real methodological imperialist to boot -- receiving support. I intervened as forcefully as I could to stop my least favorite from being hired, making my displeasure known as bluntly as possible (even saying at some point that it would be preferable to hold the search open for another year than to hire that person); from later reports I guess that my efforts had something of an impact, allowing those on the committee who also opposed this character to cite my issues with the candidate as evidence that the candidate would not be a good fit for us. Of course, in fighting a rearguard action I did rather undercut some of my effort to hire the other
candidate, I think, but at a certain point it was clear to me that my favorite candidate wasn't going to be hired (opposition from higher up the food chain too -- and we can't make hires without the support of those holding the administrative reigns) so preventing things from getting worse seemed preferable to trying and failing to make things better.
Now, the subtle politics of intra-departmental maneuvering seems to dictate that such an intervention should be avoided if possible, but I felt very
strongly about not hiring someone who would make it harder for me to do my job on a daily basis. However, I knew that since I had basically blown my reserves on last year's search, I would have to be more careful about intervening this year. I resolved only to fight defensively -- i.e. to only make a big deal about a candidate if it was a similar situation to last year. Fortunately, it wasn't (although there was apparently a move to put the same person back on the short-list again this year -- I mean, really, the chutzpah of some people! You lost
already; deal with it and move on
This year three candidates were brought in for interviews and campus visits; all three came last week, one after another. Quite a whirlwind. I attended meals with all three, and one job talk (couldn't make the others due to prior commitments); I figured that would give me enough information to determine whether there were any really bad eggs in the bunch (to mix food metaphors a bit). There weren't. We had one candidate who really didn't have much in the way of theory in the project, and who couldn't really engage in theoretical debates; seemed like much more of a policy activist, and Lord knows we don't need any more of those
around here. And then there were two, and quite a contrast they made: one intellectually fascinating, mind rushing in many directions at once, with a big-think project about reconceptualizing the nature of the international system; the other a more "normal science" type, doing work that synthesizes some extant stuff rather than really breaking/creating new ground. but extremely well-published and a nice person to boot. Also, neither were anything like methodological imperialists; both were intrigued by my description of the proposed new year-long Ph.D. "multiple methodologies" course, and I got the sense that both would be allies in that fight.
So the choice became: do I support the more intellectually interesting candidate, or do I support the more mainstream one? Do I actively support the mainstream one, or just sit back and let it happen without objecting? Politics, politics. Given last year's events, I decided that I needed to support the mainstream candidate, especially since it looked like the committee was going that way anyway. (Had it been evenly balanced I might have thought about the issue differently -- but not necessarily. One must conserve one's resources for really important battles, after all, and in this case the mainstream candidate was hardly the worst thing that could have happened.) So I wrote a note to the committee expressing what I thought was a balanced opinion: I liked the big-think candidate on intellectual grounds, and the mainstream candidate's argument was
somewhat incoherent, but the program could use someone as professional as the mainstream candidate to underscore our direction as a scholarly
program instead of a policy-recommendation shop or a haven for sloppy ideologues. Getting the "social science" aspect of what we do solidified seems to me to be quite important, given the ways that I think that such a commitment can be utilized to create space for rather radical, but still systematic and empirically-focused, work -- both in the local context and in the wider discipline as a whole. So in that sense the mainstream candidate might be a good choice even if I didn't have this specific history here with respect to search committees.
Hence, my vote: hire the mainstream candidate, despite some of that candidate's logical and theoretical problems. (The candidate's discussion of teaching also won me over, as we saw eye to eye about a classroom being a place where students should be encouraged to grapple with the material on their own. Always nice to have a supporter on that score as well.)
So the department is about to expand.
In other news, I got my book contract in the mail on Friday from Big University Press; I have it on good authority that this makes tenure a virtual lock for me next year, so hooray me! Now to re-negotiate the number of free paperback copies I will get upon publication, and see if something can be done about those foreign royalty percentages…[Posted with ecto]