The call can come at any time or place.
In December 2016, Trevis Matheus was riding his motorcycle in Mexico when the phone rang. It was a Wednesday. Due to intermittent cell signal, Matheus missed the call. Friday, he received an email saying if he didn’t respond, it would be assumed he wasn’t interested in teaching at Cal State Fullerton. With a hurricane looming off the coast, the internet went down.
“I had gotten the email,” Matheus said. “But then I couldn’t get an email back out, and so I was panicking.”
Matheus got his phone interview the following Monday.
Beginning each fiscal year, the Office of the Provost allocates resources that ensure the university is adequately staffed. Factors including retirements, separations and budget fluctuations determine how many new tenure-track positions can be offered, if any.
“Every department gets asked, ‘If you could hire somebody in the next two years who would that person be?’” said Interim Assistant Vice President of Academic Human Resources Emily Bonney, Ph.D.
In turn, the colleges compile wish lists reflecting their needs to submit to the college’s respective dean. Once tenure positions are allocated, each college determines which department can receive a new professor for the following year, and must form a department search committee, submit a recruitment plan and create a specific job description. The approval process can take months.
Finally, the search begins.
Job announcements are disseminated into multitudes of media locations targeting specific disciplines. Matheus found his job posted on academic professional websites in his field.
“We’ll do some intentional outreach,” Vice President of Human Resources, Diversity and Inclusion David Forgues, Ph.D. said. “We do a lot of advertising very widely because we want to draw the best candidates we can.”
Applications are accepted for a limited time, typically 30 days before interviews can commence. Initially, a qualitative review process performed by the search committee collects applicant files meeting minimum qualifications.
Interviews are awarded to those candidates with the strongest credentials, like a doctorate or previous experience in the field or in teaching.
“You start out with, let’s say, 60 files,” Bonney said. “You do the file review, get yourself a relatively short list of eight to 10, then you do the phone or Skype interviews.”
The search committee calls each candidate with a set of questions. The strongest phone and video conference interviews get invited to the university to meet with the department. A single job opening may receive up to four candidates.
Despite adversity, Matheus nailed his phone interview and advanced to the final round, a day on campus.
“You’re hoping all day,” Matheus said. “We had breakfast at eight and went all the way through until five. I had an hour break and then went to dinner with them as well. So, you’re always on.”
The college dean, department chair, search committee and student groups meet with each applicant for personal interviews. This is perhaps the most intense part of the process for candidates, and faculty alike. It takes several appointments to interview them all. Each candidate is expected to give a teaching demonstration and a research talk, Bonney said.
“It was kind of long and grueling but it was what I was expecting,” Matheus said. “It’s interesting. I don’t expect there are too many jobs where you go for an entire day of interviews.”
After months of searching, the committee has deliberations. The search committee and department chair perform evaluations and reference checks of each candidate and submit their recommendation to the dean, who in turn must approve them before sending the applicant’s file to President Mildred García, who ultimately decides.
But it’s not over yet.
Like students, new faculty must undergo an orientation which takes a couple of days, usually the week before the semester starts.
“That person’s got the job in May, but they don’t start until the academic year, so the week before classes start, the orientation takes place.” Bonney said. But over the summer they get their teaching assignments and take time to prepare.
Now an assistant professor, Matheus must put together a prospectus, teach geography classes and look ahead to his first review. Tenure-track faculty are on a six-year probationary period with annual performance evaluations. Research publications, teaching performance and student surveys are a vital part of the review process. Once this final hurdle is passed, a lifelong career begins.
“It’s pretty much a lifetime appointment,” Forgues said. “For as long as you want to have it.”