How does a department go forward with the interview process when an on-campus visit is impossible because of COVID-19? We are a small department at an institution that celebrates collegiality and emphasizes teaching, so the lack of a campus visit is particularly of concern for us. Any help would be appreciated.—Professor Collegiality
Dear Prof. Collegiality,
Campus visits are tiring. Zoom meetings are tiring. Put them both together and you risk wearing your candidate out if you do too much. So, as with everything during these extraordinary times, less is more. As a small teaching-oriented institution, the central elements of a campus visit are most likely a teaching demo and meetings with various constituents (faculty, students, hiring committee, etc). Let’s first agree that it’s impossible to reproduce this structure virtually. And trying to do the next best thing wouldn’t be that useful either. So the key here is to come up with activities that will get at what these components do in the campus visit.
Unfortunately, the first thing you’ll have to throw out is the teaching demo. Online teaching is, as we’ve all found out, very different from teaching in the classroom, and I don’t think you’ll get what you would want from observing a candidate’s teaching your students in someone else’s online class. Some possible substitutes: ask the candidate to put together a presentation that lays out their pedagogical methods and how those methods would look teaching one class in a specific topic. What kind of activities would they have students do? What are their goals both for that particular class session and for the course as a whole? Alternatively, if the candidate is currently teaching and their students are ok with it, you could have them record one of their sessions and send it to the search committee.
For the collegiality piece of the puzzle, try setting up a Zoom coffee hour with the candidate and four or five colleagues. Again, this isn’t the same as hanging out and eating a meal with someone, but it’s a more relaxed setting than a meeting with the search committee (which is the easiest part of the process to replicate). Limit it to 45 minutes or an hour at most and try to avoid it feeling like a series of questions that the candidate is answering — that’s the role of the meeting with the committee and/or the chair.
As with a regular campus visit, give your candidate breaks between these activities. But keep it to a single day. Remember that you’ve chosen these folks from a much larger group and that most likely any of them would be great options. This process will feel even more artificial than a regular campus visit, but you can still learn a lot about a person through a computer screen.