Letters to Campus

Letters to campus

February 2012

Dear Faculty and Staff,

Welcome to the spring 2012 semester! I trust that your semester has started off well, and that you are now into the rhythm of a new term. This is the fourth winter I have experienced in Kansas - and the spring-like temperatures seem more like winters in Mississippi than in the Midwest.

I continue to be proud and impressed by the accolades received by our faculty members. As I have discussed in previous letters, the university has compiled a set of web pages which list faculty achievements such as holding an endowed position, being designated as a University Distinguished Professor, or having been recently promoted or tenured. We have now added a fourth component to our "Faculty Honors" web page to recognize our faculty members who have been designated as a “Fellow” of nationally-recognized professional societies. Kansas State did not have any sort of listing of our Fellows previously, so we asked the deans to provide us with the names of faculty members who are currently recognized as Fellows. However, I am certain that we have missed some faculty members who have been designated as a Fellow, so if we have missed you or a colleague, please send a note to Brian Niehoff so that we can add your name to the list.

Great universities are built around great faculty and staff members. In order to continue our tradition of hiring excellent colleagues, it is important that we have in place a set of best practices for hiring faculty and staff. Last spring, we got a little ahead of ourselves by rolling out a lengthy set of revised hiring practices for faculty and staff members. Unlike previous major university initiatives, there was not enough time allowed for collaborative feedback and improvement, despite our best intentions. As a result of input from the campus community, the senior administration decided to restart our examination of our hiring processes. Since my arrival on campus we have worked to be open, collaborative and inclusive of shared governance. In this case we missed the mark on the first try, but remain committed to listening and working together. Please know I appreciate your input and feedback as we strive to move our university forward.

Following a few weeks of reflection and discussion, we decided that an appropriate first step was to take a thorough look at our hiring practices on campus and try and determine what was working well for the campus community and what wasn’t working well. We convened 11 focus groups encompassing faculty and staff with a broad range of experiences and responsibilities in hiring at Kansas State. We then compiled all of these comments and suggestions into a report, "Report on Hiring Process Assessment Focus Groups," which is available on our website.

The Kansas State community responded as it always does - with forthright responses and suggestions which detailed the good, the bad, and the ugly of hiring at Kansas State. It is impossible to improve if you don’t have a good baseline to start from, and this report provides a thorough analysis of hiring perceptions at Kansas State.

Some of the things we learned from the report are what we would expect - that we need to streamline, simplify, and automate our hiring processes and procedures. Additionally, we need to find ways to improve our recruitment and outreach practices. Generally, we must be vigilant in ensuring that campus has the flexibility needed to hire the best and brightest without overly cumbersome regulations.

However, other concerns were brought forward that we didn't expect - that answers to questions on hiring brought different answers depending on who you talked with; that we need to more carefully clarify and communicate roles, responsibilities, procedures, and practices at all levels; and that we need to have better flexibility in how we hire into different positions since a "one size fits all" hiring strategy isn't effective across the entire campus community.

Having a report is just the first step - so what is next? We shared an early version of the report with Faculty Senate leadership, the Deans Council, and the President’s Cabinet to solicit their suggestions for next steps. I asked a small group of key university leaders representing Affirmative Action, Human Resources, and the provost’s office to develop a suggested list of immediate action steps that we can take now which will help to improve our hiring practices. Following suggestions from all of the above groups, we are going to immediately put in place the following changes:

Step 1: Lift the hiring freeze. Reference to the hiring freeze has been removed from the website. The provost and vice presidents will work with their units on appropriate measures to continue to ensure fiscal responsibility for hiring within their areas.

Step 2: Develop an integrated list of Frequently Asked Questions regarding recruitment, hiring, and selection. As examples: Do we require transcripts? Can we require U.S. citizenship? Can we interview at professional meetings? Such a list should clarify existing procedures, address varying interpretations, and identify areas that need further review.

Step 3: Eliminate or modify steps added to the search process last spring, effective immediately. This includes:

a. While the Diversity Point Persons will continue to serve in their role as resource persons for the recruitment and search process in their colleges, Diversity Point Person signature approval will not be required at any step.

b. We will no longer require Office of Affirmative Action certification of the applicant and interview pool and search committees will be allowed to view applications as they arrive once screening criteria is defined by the committee.

c. We will no longer require Profiles of Excellence.

d. We will continue to request voluntary self-identification of race and gender data as required by law. The Office of Affirmative Action is working with Information Technology Services to automate this part of the search process as soon as practically possible. In the meantime, the Office of Affirmative Action will provide a template letter to be forwarded to applicants to ensure consistency in the requests and that questions from applicants must go to the Office of Affirmative Action and not the hiring unit.

In order to make this effective immediately, the existing procedures and forms have been revised on the relevant websites.

Step 4: Explore the development of alternative hiring tracks for special types of positions. Should all positions go through the same competitive hiring process or can we create different tracks for positions such as post-doctoral fellows or types of term positions?

Step 5: Implement an inviting university jobs site. We need to do a better job marketing ourselves and our job opportunities.

Step 6: Hire a human capital consultant. Our 2025 goals for faculty and staff are ambitious, not just for recruiting and hiring but also in areas such as retention, professional development, and evaluation. We will ask a consultant to evaluate our current human resource structures, resources, and services and make recommendations for change.

While these are good steps to take, we need to continue to look at other issues raised in the report. Over the next month, we will be appointing an advisory committee consisting of representatives from across campus and our key governance groups to assist us in continuing to improve our hiring infrastructure.

As president, I remain committed to ensuring that our internal operations are as good as we can make them to help us achieve our Top 50 public research university goal. I am always open to suggestions on how we can do things better, and encourage the campus community to continue to point out ways we can improve.

Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions with anything I have written above.

Go Cats!