Faculty Communications, Spanking, and Strategic Voting

Faculty votes on hiring and tenure and promotion matters can be fascinating because of the dilemmas and strategic behaviors that evolve.

Some people will vote no on a candidate not because they believe or actual want the candidate not to be hired or promoted.  Instead they want to voice disapproval of something about the candidate. It's hard not to believe this is the case when, at least in my experience, there are many votes that are not quite unanimous. For example, how do you explain a 35-1 vote. Did the one person really have a completely different evaluation of the candidate.?

The fact that a no vote can be intended to be something akin to a spanking or reflect a belief that the candidate really should not be promoted or hired leads to strategic risks. These risks are increased when candidates are not discussed freely and openly.

 Suppose a candidate is fine with respect to teaching and research but a pain in the ass otherwise. Or maybe they engage in conduct that seems questionable.  The voter who wants to administer the spanking would probably be happy with 10 or 20% no votes. Suppose 40% no votes would put the candidate's job in jeopardy.

The problem is that if many in the faculty vote for the spanking the no vote could easily reach 40%. Yet none of them really felt the candidate did not deserve to be hired or promoted. Conversely, if all those in favor of a spanking fear that everyone else will vote for the spanking they may not vote no and the candidate has no signal that anything is amiss.

Of course, one could avoid all this by never voting for a spanking. The problem is that it is not always easy to separate the spanking motivation from concerns about performance over the long run. Plus, if the faculty has a sense there is no administrative reaction to bad conduct, it is more likely to feel it has to intervene.

In all cases, the votes can distort actual preferences.