Cherry Blossoms

Chair search committee guidelines

What is the charge to the search committee

You should answer two questions:

  • (1)  What are the major issues facing the department?
  • (2)  Who should lead the department?

What is the expected product?

Provide a report to the Dean that consists of two parts.  Part 1 should be suitable for sharing with the new chair and the department; Part 2 is confidential (to the extent allowed by law).  The report should include an unranked list with two or more names, together with an assessment of the candidates' strengths and weaknesses and the level of support they enjoy among the members of the department.  Willingness to serve is not a criterion when evaluating candidates (offering the position to a candidate is the Dean's responsibility).  Part 2 can also address issues of a confidential nature not suitable for Part 1.

What is the role of the committee person who is a member of the department?

The function of the department-internal member of the committee is to serve as a liaison to the department and as a source of information for the external committee members.  The internal member should not participate in the interviews with department members or in the writing of Part 2 of the report.

What is the process?

(1)  Become familiar with the department by reading the most recent annual report(s) and the report from the last Academic Program Review, and by talking to the internal committee member.  Academic Program Reviews can be found at

(2)  Send an email to the department members soliciting input (see sample below).

(3)  Conduct interviews with faculty, staff, students, and other persons connected with the department.

(4)  Write the report.

The most important part of the process is the interviews.  EVERYONE MUST BE GIVEN A CHANCE TO BE HEARD, AND ALL COMMUNICATIONS SHOULD BE TREATED CONFIDENTIALLY.  It is probably a good idea to start by meeting with the current chair, with the associate chairs or others who have important leadership functions, and with the department administrator.

The most efficient way of conducting the remaining bulk of the interviews is a "surgical strike."  Choose a day or two with enough lead time, clear the decks for those days, and spend all day on interviews.  Twenty-minute slots should be okay, with regular breaks for you to catch your breath and to buffer time overruns.  If the department is large, it may not be possible to have everybody meet with all the external committee members; you may have to split up.  You should prepare a schedule.  The actual signup (filling the slots) should be handled by the department.

Instead of meeting with individual graduate students, you may want to propose meeting with them as a group or meeting with representatives.  The same applies to post-docs and staff.  However, anyone who requests a meeting with the committee should be accommodated.  You should always emphasize that the interviews will be useful only if the interviewees are completely frank and that all communications with the committee will be treated confidentially.

Sample email from the committee to department personnel

TO:          Faculty, staff, and students of the Department of Astronomy

FROM:     Astronomy Chair Search Committee

RE:          Astronomy chair search

Dean _____ and Divisional Dean _____ have appointed a committee to conduct a search for the new chair of the Department of Astronomy.  The committee members are:  [name], Associate Professor, Astronomy; [name], Associate Professor, Physics; [name], Professor, Statistics (committee chair).

We are soliciting comments from all faculty, staff, students, and other persons involved with the department.  We want your views on the most significant current issues for the department, what its priorities should be for the next few years, and who you think would be most able to effectively guide the department.  Your communications will be treated confidentially.

We have set aside [date] and [date] for meetings with individuals or groups.  Meetings will be with the external committee members only and are expected to take about 30 minutes.  The administrator for Astronomy—[name, telephone, email]—will handle the scheduling.  Please contact him for an appointment.

If you have any comments or concerns about the search, please contact the committee chair [name, phone, email].

Some guidelines for conducting a chair search can be found on the A&S Web site; see the topic “Chair search committee guidelines.”