Deliberate Decision-Making with Fairness and Rigor: Making Hiring Decisions in the Department of Sociology and Criminology

Jan 28, 2022

Lisa Pasko, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology and Criminology

Several years ago, under then-Chair Hava Gordon’s leadership, faculty in the Department of Sociology and Criminology began moving toward deliberate decision-making (DDM) in hiring decisions. The model previously employed by the department rested on consensus-building, with decision-makers around the table speaking at random for unlimited time. All too often, however, consensus was only achieved after fatigue, with some faculty feeling silenced, coerced, and invisible.

In our current DDM model, we created an intentional and repeatable process that ensures every decision-maker has equal time to express opinions. To help us make smart and informed decisions, we begin with a series of questions we all consider prior to the hiring discussion. During the decision-making meeting, we allow time for two rounds of deliberation, with time equally shared among all participants, in order to gather the best information and achieve the richest input. In addition, we moved from a consensus model to a simple majority one, underscoring both the importance of being heard and the understanding that one’s preferred candidate may not be the top choice. The process is neither robotic nor devoid of emotion or rigor, however. Instead, it has clarified expectations for exchange and calibrated reactions, sealing some fissures and reducing acrimony in decision-making.

Last year, we codified this framework into the following bylaws:

Faculty hiring decisions are made by a vote.  Prior to the hiring meeting, all voting faculty will complete an anonymous straw poll, ranking candidates and indicating if candidates are deemed “acceptable” or “unacceptable.” If a majority of voting faculty vote a candidate unacceptable, the candidate is then removed from consideration.  Hiring meeting will open with the straw poll results, followed by equitable, uninterrupted deliberation, ending in a second anonymous straw poll. After second straw poll results, voting faculty will engage in a second round of equitable, uninterrupted deliberation, followed by a final vote. Although consensus is highly valued, the candidate with the highest number of top rankings is offered the position first. Should that candidate turn down the offer, the candidate with the second highest number of top rankings is offered the position. Should that candidate turn down the offer, the candidate with the third highest number of top rankings is offered the position. Should all candidates turn down the offer, or should no candidates be deemed acceptable, the search will be closed and reconvened the following year, pending funding. In the event of a tie for the top ranking, the hiring meeting process will repeat, until a majority top ranking can be achieved.

We have applied these bylaws in our recent recruitment experiences. While these decisions were not particularly contentious, it did remove premature convergence and permit time for reflection and further refinement of one’s ideas. It also helped mitigate decision fatigue, since we all entered the room with a firm expectation of time allotment. In the end, recruitment was successful, both in hiring and in the decision-making pathway to get there.

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