Friday, April 15, 2016

Making Appointments, Promotions, Tenurings Stronger. The Analogy with Recruiting in Football...

Listening to an AM sports station this morning, there was talk about NFL recruiting. The announcer spoke with some confidence, yet with provisos and backing out, about teams and whom they might recruit given the teams' current composition. Lots of stats and lots of interpretation of those stats.

That started me thinking about our future colleagues. My remarks are of course already part of our current rules, but perhaps thinking in terms of athletic teams might be useful for colleagues, chairs, deans, and the provost. I realize that the long term is very different for us than for most sports.

1. Every case should be accompanied by an evidence-based indication of future promisespecific achievements in the next five years, more general ones in the longer run. Of course, contributions during the probationary period or during the career up until now play a dominant role.
2. Marginal cases need extraordinary justifications. If a golden egg is about to be laid, perhaps we need to see the egg about to come out before we take it as evidence. As we say, if the university is to move up, each candidate needs to be (potentially) stronger than perhaps 2/3 of the current faculty in that department or school.
3. Considerations of the composition of the department or school (the "team") are important, because the world evaluates a university by its "teams." What do you (chair, dean) need to move up? There should be little problem of protecting faculty rights given these considerations.

4. We might even write a brief memo about each such appointment, promotion, and tenuring, about hopes and demurrers, and then check up on how things turn up in five years.

As for such advice to higher ups:I like the following (with no implications that I am in Langlands' league or game):

In 1967, Robert Langlands, as an assistant professor, wrote a letter about his ideas in mathematics to one of the great mathematicians, Andre Weil (Simone Weil's brother). Langlands turned out to be in Weil's class, and The Langlands Program is ubiquitous these days. Langlands wrote, “If you are willing to read it as pure speculation, I would appreciate that; if not — I am sure you have a waste basket handy.”

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