Going Off List

June 12, 2015 / Phil Lesch

Inside Higher Ed
June 12th, 2015

t’s a given: committees in administrative searches will check references beyond those included on a candidate’s résumé. The stakes of the appointment are high, so why rely only on the references the candidate has put forward, the thinking goes. But what about off-list references in faculty searches? There’s little literature, detailed policy or even talk about the subject, but such checks for faculty candidates appear to be widespread -- both by search committees and administrators. And while some faculty advocates are wholly opposed to the idea, other faculty members and administrators say there’s some value in the practice -- so long as those doing the checking do it in an ethical way.

“Off-list reference checks introduce unnecessary harm to faculty job applicants' privacy and restrain academic freedom,” said Michael Y. Moon, an associate professor of public affairs and administration at California State University, East Bay, during a talk on the practice Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Association of University Professors. Moon’s paper, called “Screening Job Applicants with Undisclosed Off-Reference-List Checks as an Incursion on Shared Governance,” was highly critical of the practice, especially by administrators -- which he alleged was prevalent and in at least one instance led to the nonhire of a faculty-backed candidate in his department.

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