Ground Rules

A search committee needs ground rules and they need to be established right at the start, advises Theodore J. Marchese, Senior Consultant, Academic Search Consultation Service, Washington, DC., the nation's oldest and largest higher education search firm. Marchese was on the UW-Madison campus for Showcase 2003 and offered this advice to search committees relative to ground rules.

Ground rules for a search committee should include at a minimum agreed upon standards for:

1. Attendance
Set up all meetings of the search committee at the start and expect all members to attend all meetings to ensure continuity and to avoid rehashing. The search committee's work is cumulative and the process breaks down when members miss meetings.) Marchese reports good success as long as this expectation is stated at the start.

2. Decision-making
For the final decision, will the group use consensus or voting ala Robert's Rules of Order or fiat? The decision-making process must be understood and agreed up before the decision-making begins. (For more on this, see Best Practices)

3. Confidentiality
Search Committee members must commit to the confidentiality expectations of the search. Ground rules clarify such issues as the imperative to:

  • Honor the confidentiality request of candidates in perpetuity, not just till the search is over
  • Maintain confidentiality in casual and private conversations about the search, not only in public meetings or venues

4. Agreement about how candidates will be vetted
(E.g. small group doing initial screening, everyone doing some screening, what kinds of rating scales and formats, phone contacts, etc.)

5. Others For other ground rules useful to any committee or working group, see Best Practices

The search committee chair may propose an initial list of ground rules which the committee can augment and then formally accept. Copies of the ground rules should be distributed to all members and the chair should always have a copy on hand.

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