An Institution Asks: What is the appropriate role of the campus community in finalist interviews?
There is no one right way to conduct finalist interviews. The best structure for finalist interviews will be unique to each institution, balancing factors such as campus culture, history, and expectations for openness; institutional structure (number of campuses, for instance); and the desire to create a process that will attract and protect candidates with high needs for confidentiality, such as sitting presidents.
Open and closed finalist interview processes each have their benefits. Closed searches can allow the search committee and board to consider candidates who might not otherwise have entered the search. Open finalist interviews are a great opportunity to include the campus community in the search process. Campus feedback can provide the board with additional perspectives to consider when deciding on the final appointment. Open interviews can be beneficial in terms of gaining campus buy-in for the selected candidate. Open campus interviews can also give candidates themselves a good opportunity to determine fit with a campus culture.
Regardless of whether finalist interviews are open to the campus, closed, or somewhere in-between, it is important to provide campus constituents with a confidential way to share feedback with the search committee and/or board. At AGB Search, we provide search committees with an excellent tool for this in the form of an electronic survey that is easy to access and takes very little time to complete. All who meet with the finalists are provided with a link to the survey, and are given a certain period of time to submit feedback. Respondents are allowed to remain anonymous, identifying by category (faculty, staff, student, etc.), which can encourage candor. Responses are compiled into a report that is provided to the board for use in making a final decision.
Remember that finalist interviews are only one piece of a long and thorough search process, starting with the materials originally submitted by the candidates and including preliminary interviews with the search committee, in-depth referencing, and background check information, and personal interviews between candidates and board members
A Candidate Asks: I have concerns about confidentiality, but the institution is holding open campus interviews. What are my options?
If you have confidentiality concerns, be sure to make that clear to the search consultant early in the process, as sometimes search committees have the flexibility to keep the final interview process closed or protected. Even in an open process, there are things a committee can do to limit exposure, such as not providing a press release announcing the interviews, sharing the interview schedule and candidate names only through secure campus networks, and releasing candidate names a short time (perhaps 24 hours) before they will be on campus. In searches at public institutions in open-record states, there is little that can be done to protect confidentiality of finalists. But in other situations, there are often ways that confidentially can be preserved if you make your needs known up front.