Massive New Bureaucracy in JMU Faculty Hiring Procedures

The Academic Affairs Guidelines for Recruiting and Hiring Instructional Faculty manual provides a glaring look into the bureaucratic and deeply troubling hiring procedures for faculty at James Madison University. Highly bureaucratic systems and policies are nothing new in American higher education, but this manual of edicts from the Office of the Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs is highly prescriptive and cumbersome. Effectively, the provost has insisted on the review and approval for every hire on the JMU campus and her office has expanded to take on this new additional responsibility.

Since coming to JMU in 2017, Provost Heather Coltman has massively expanded the staffing in her office, including hiring Dr. Narketta Sparkman-Key, the Associate Provost for Inclusive Strategies and Equity Initiatives (APISEI) in 2022. According to the manual, Sparkman-Key and Coltman are basically the gatekeepers — not just for hiring any new faculty member at JMU, but even determining if a search committee may continue with a search based on the diversity within the applicant pool.

For example, even before a search committee can form, the steps shown below  must be taken. Understandably, there must be some top down controls to ensure departments are not hiring without proper approvals, but we note the first of many approvals by the Provost highlighted below.

1. The dean, the academic unit head (AUH), and faculty discuss and determine the need for a new faculty hire.

2. The AUH submits a justification for a new hire to the dean.

3. The dean reviews the justification and submits the position request form to the provost’s office by the established deadline.

4. Academic Resources prioritizes faculty hiring requests.

5. The provost confirms approvals and notifies the dean.

6. The dean notifies the AUH to proceed with the search.

7. The AUH completes and submits a “Request to Recruit” to Academic Resources.

There are protocols on who can be on the search committee, which is then approved by Sparkman-Key or another Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) leader. (As an aside, according to this report, JMU boasts 65 administrators and spends more than $5.3M on DEI salaries)

“In consultation with the dean, the college’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Leader and/or Associate Provost for Inclusive Strategies and Equity Initiatives (APISEI), the AUH ensures appropriate diversity and representation within the search committee…. It is recommended that the committee create a Recruitment Plan for discussion with the Associate Provost for Inclusive Strategies and Equity Initiatives.” And ALL postings MUST be approved by Sparkman-Key prior to being sent to HR for posting online.

After additional approvals on the position description and job posting, required applicants must provide the items listed below:

— Cover letter or letter of interest;

— Current CV;

— A minimum of three professional references. Search committees may ask for letters to be uploaded or for the applicant to provide the names and contact information for their references;

— Statements on teaching philosophy and research or scholarly interests, as appropriate to the position;

— Statement that addresses diversity, equity, inclusion, and/or justice, which is called the Statement of Inclusive Excellence.

As JMU continues to make strides towards inclusive excellence to better support all constituents, it is our duty to ensure all applicants have a focus on diversity, equity, inclusion and/or justice. Search committees must require a Statement of Inclusive Excellence from each applicant. The position description must direct applicants to address their efforts towards diversity, equity, inclusion and/or justice in a statement that is separate from the cover letter. The goal of this statement is to ensure applicants have a focus on inclusivity within their scholarly and/or teaching activities. Applicant statements must not focus on their personal values and personal experiences but must focus on their actions and experiences as they relate to diversity, equity, inclusion and/or justice (Canning & Reddick, 2019; Schmaling et al., 2015).

Note the bolded section above — applicants must not focus on their personal values and personal experiences, but must focus on their actions and experiences.

How much weight is put on this portion of the application versus all of the other portions, including the actual relevant experience the individual has in the subject matter in which they are responsible for teaching? How much of the factor to hire is based on actual merit versus an ideological litmus test? The document states that the search committee may “consider offering applicants the opportunity to demonstrate different types of skills and experiences by allowing the submission of supplemental materials.” What other types of skills are being referenced here that would be relevant to instructional teaching at a university?

Now that we have reached the applicant review phase, it becomes clear the significant degree of influence Sparkman-Key has over the search committee process. A single individual may determine if the committee may proceed with their work, and, it would appear, based solely on race. While the Dean appears to have the responsibility to determine if a search moves forward, there are clearly roadblocks in place to ensure that decision never has to be made because APSIEI would have presumably not approved the applicant pool.

After the position has been posted for 30 days, the APISEI and Human Resources will review the diversity of the applicant pool.

The APISEI will confirm if the committee may move forward to the review phase.

— Once the APISEI has approved the pool, the HR Recruitment Specialist will inform the search committee chair.

— It is the responsibility of the search committee chair to inform the dean whether or not the candidate pool is diverse.

— If the applicant pool is not diverse, the dean, APISEI and HR will work with the search committee on strategies to increase the diversity of the pool.

Lack of diversity in the applicant pool may lead to extending, delaying or cancelling the search. In this case, the AUH, dean and APISEI will confer to determine the best course of action. Ultimately, the dean has the responsibility to determine whether a search moves forward.

The search committee must develop a list of top applicants to advance to first stage interviews. Typically, 7-10 applicants may be advanced to this stage, depending on the number of qualified applicants, the number of positions being filled, the timeline for the search and the availability of the search committee members.

The search committee chair will send the list to the HR Recruitment Specialist, who will share the diversity of the short list with the APISEI. The APISEI will make the final determination as to whether the diversity represented is appropriate compared to the applicant pool. The HR Recruitment Specialist will inform the search committee chair of the results of this review. If the list is not appropriately diverse, the HR Recruitment Specialist will inform the search committee chair, and the APISEI and dean will meet with the search committee to discuss whether and how the search will proceed.

The search committee chair will send the list of proposed finalists to their HR Recruitment Specialist. The HR Recruitment Specialist will share the diversity of the finalist list with the APISEI, who determines if the diversity represented is appropriate. The HR Recruitment Specialist will inform the search committee chair of the results.

Once the diversity of the pool has been confirmed by APISEI and HR, permission of the AUH and dean is required before progressing to on-campus interviews.

If an individual makes it to campus, they also must meet with a designated DEI Leader (How much influence do they have in the final decision to hire? How much time do they actually spend teaching or are they only administrators?) to learn more about campus climate and JMU’s ongoing work to advance equity and inclusion.

As others such as The Jefferson Council have noted, the growth in the DEI bureaucracy has ballooned over the past several years. However, the broader issue is the ideological litmus test and significant degree of bureaucracy JMU has imposed on hiring new faculty. We continue to hear about the needs to increase capacity in the workforce and the need for additional capacity in the classroom. How is it practical or equitable to mandate these requirements on peers who claim to already be overworked? What is the average number of days it takes for a new faculty member to be hired at JMU? Further, how much time (and taxpayer money) are tenured and non-tenured teaching faculty spending on search committees and compliance with non-state mandated administrative requirements?

The article was originally published on the Madison Cabinet for Free Speech and Accountability blog. It is republished here with permission.