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Professional Opinion

How do we hire the best college faculty?

Determining employee engagement is the key
University Business, September 2018
Gemmy Allen is co-coordinator of faculty management programs at North Lake College; Brett Welch is associate professor of Educational Leadership at Lamar University; Kaye Shelton is associate professor of Educational Leadership at Lamar University; and Pam Quinn is provost at LeCroy Center for Human Resources, all in Texas.
Gemmy Allen is co-coordinator of faculty management programs at North Lake College; Brett Welch is associate professor of Educational Leadership at Lamar University; Kaye Shelton is associate professor of Educational Leadership at Lamar University; and Pam Quinn is provost at LeCroy Center for Human Resources, all in Texas.

In the July 2018 issue of UB, Richard L. Riccardi, senior associate provost and dean of libraries at Rider University in New Jersey, writes that “institutions have begun to see a culture of data-informed decision-making as a necessity instead of a luxury. Making good decisions depends on quality data and less on intuition or anecdotes.”

The title of his article is “If data is the answer in higher ed, what is the question?”

One higher ed question may be “How do we hire the best faculty?”

Research has shown that faculty/student interactions are crucial to student success. For this reason, the interview process should result in the selection of candidates who most clearly meet predetermined selection criteria.

Ask the right questions

Companies such as Tesla, Accenture and LinkedIn use technology to determine the best interview questions for job candidates. The interviewer asks a set of questions, and the candidate’s answers are compared to the metrics of the company’s top performers.

Engaged employees are a company’s best employees. Work engagement is a top issue for business leaders because engaged employees give companies the competitive advantages of higher productivity and lower turnover. Engaged employees advocate for their company as an employer of choice.

Work engagement appears to be just as relevant in higher education as it is in business. Indeed, the impact of disengaged faculty on student success may be serious as faculty may be the most important element in student learning.

Thus, hiring engaged faculty is one goal with the best opportunity for impactful results. Interview questions should make a clear and measurable impact.

There are several well-researched employee engagement surveys that can be used to help develop interview questions. One popular work-engagement measurement tool is UWES, the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UBmag.me/uwes), a series of statements based on this definition:

“Work engagement is a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor (that is, high levels of energy and mental resilience while working), dedication (referring to a sense of significance, enthusiasm, and challenge), and absorption (being focused and happily engrossed in one’s work).”

In our study to find the most predictive engagement statements, we used the UWES scale to survey 556 community college instructors. We hypothesized that work engagement had a distinct application for college faculty.

Our research found that faculty who perceived themselves as engaged were significantly more productive, they were less likely to show signs of burnout, they were more loyal, and they were less likely to be looking for jobs elsewhere.

Faculty answers to the UWES statements were analyzed using logistic regression to see if any would be predictive or useful when hiring instructors.

These work engagement statements could be used to form the foundation of faculty interview questions or scenarios and to determine whether an applicant was “fit” to teach.

  • “At my job, I feel vigorous.”
  • “I am proud of the work that I do.”
  • “I am immersed in my work.”

If the goal of a college is to have more engaged faculty, statistics can be helpful in determining interview questions. Highly engaged faculty will likely see opportunities and possibilities. Disengaged faculty, on the other hand, will focus more on limitations, seeing threats instead of opportunities.

By using statistically significant statements as the basis for interview questions, eventually all faculty hired would be engaged. There would be no more disengaged faculty or detractors. Hopefully, the ultimate result would be an increase in student success.


Gemmy Allen is co-coordinator of faculty  management programs at North Lake College; Brett Welch is associate professor of Educational Leadership at Lamar University; Kaye Shelton is associate professor of Educational Leadership at Lamar University; and Pam Quinn is provost at LeCroy Center for Human Resources, all in Texas.