University Location and Academic Hiring Committees

I never seem to be able to stick to a hiatus.

Anyway, this has been sticking in my craw for the past couple of days. A friend recently asked me when I thought was the appropriate time (if at all) for a job candidate to express to a search committee that s/he is interested in working at that particular university for reasons having to do with location: "I want to live in a metropolitan area," "I'm from the south, and I want to stay/go back there," or the extremely important "I have/my spouse has family in the area."

Usually, a search committee will ask during an interview, "Why do you want to come to our university?" Please correct me if I'm wrong -- I would actually like to be wrong on this point -- but I've always gotten the idea that "because I have family in the area" or "because I'm from the south, and that's where I'd like to settle down" is NOT what they want to hear. Pretty much what they seem to want to hear is, "because I've always seen myself fitting in best at a(n)..."

[insert mission here:

* teaching institution with a commitment to outreach
* small liberal arts college
* faith-based institution
* land-grant university with support for research]

Hiring committees, in my admittedly limited experience only as a candidate, generally seem to want candidates for whom location is almost interchangeable or coincidental. I actually have answered the "why do you want to come here" question honestly before and have gotten the distinct impression that I'd said the wrong thing.

I think that not recognizing geography as a perfectly legitimate, sound reason to be interested in a job is utterly messed up for several reasons:

1. Common practice. Many applicants base their job searches on location, at least to a certain extent, and it's impractical and counterintuitive not to acknowledge that fact.

2. Getting the best information. If you have a geographical advantage when it comes to recruiting candidate X, don't you want to know that?

3. Institutional change. As we know, universities shift priorities and resources all the time. Programs are created, built up, dismantled; strategic planning initiatives are implemented; teaching universities become research universities, etc. Location is the ONE thing that, in fact, DOESN'T change. Isn't it good to know that a candidate is committed to that location and will adapt to whatever changes the university makes?

4. Retention. When professors leave positions, how often is location the only reason or one of the main reasons? How often do professors relocate to be closer to family? How often do professors leave small towns to go to cities because they're happier there? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say quite often. If you really want to live in a certain place, you're not going to be as likely to leave, especially if there aren't many universities close by. Even if there are, I'd still bet that retention rates would be higher over the long term among professors who love their locations.

That is all -- but I'd like to know what you think, particularly if you've been on a search committee. Is it okay to be up-front about the importance of location in a job search? I realize that, as a member of a SC, you don't want a marriage of convenience type of situation, but I don't think it has to be this way; moreover, I think it rarely, if ever, works out that way in practice. I'd hypothesize that if you love living where you live, you're going to be more positively predisposed toward your job, no matter what kind of institution it is.


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There's no doubt that this

There's no doubt that this is a significant issue I've seen teaching at a rural institution - candidates who express an interest in being in such an environment are definitely appreciated, whether it's because of family roots, lifestyle goals, or atmosphere. Tenure track hires are a huge investment in time & money, so you don't want to hire someone who seems unlikely to want to stay here for the long haul. I know in my case, I made it very clear to the search committee that I wanted to live in New England and be in a smaller town to raise my kids.

Hiring is ultimately a holistic process, and I think it's important to take everything into account - not to hire a lesser candidate whom you think will be more likely to stay, but to feel like a strong candidate is also a strong fit.

thanks for articulating this

thanks for articulating this so well!



The rhet/comp/b&tw job market is getting pretty inverted--that is, more jobs than candidates by a margin that seems to be getting bigger each year, and I think that perhaps because of that more and more schools will _want to_ hear that you are interested in that place in part because of its geography. That is, the "this is a candidate _we can get_" factor is coming more and more into play. It certainly is where I work.....


wanting to be there

One concern, and I think this echoes the first comment, is people wanting to be and remain at a particular institution and not just use it for career building. There is, of course, some of that everywhere, but I'd say, as a hiring committee person that I'd rather have someone who wants to be at the school and in the area for reason X than I would want someone who looked much better on paper but was going to be gone in a few years. But to get to the original question, when to bring that up, that I don't know. I think the interviewee has to get a feel for the committee and the interview.

For me, I'm the fourth generation of my family to live in Spokane, even though I grew up in Seattle. My wife grew up across the border in N. Idaho. When I applied, and I had tenure already, they knew it was because I wanted to be at THAT school in THAT area and I wasn't just looking for a job, any job. As one of the committee members said, it made for a great ethos. How this compares for teaching at what level, I don't know. I see some people leaving what I think are desirable places for less than desirable locales, but what do I know? I live in Spokane and I used to live in Vegas baby!


Location, location, location

While of course you don't want to look desperate, if you really are interested in the school for its location (or size, or private/public status, or whatever) I think it makes more sense to be up front and say "I like your X Y and Z" rather than have someone on the committee speak for you and say "I don't think Candidate Perfect would be happy with our X Y and Z."

On one successful job interview, I very carefully revealed one such pleasure about the school to each member of the committee, individually, so that when they got together and compared notes they would all find different reasons for why I thought I would be happy there.

thank for useful

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