Recruiting and Retaining Jesuit Faculty: Flexibility and Preparation Are Key

By David Powers

Editor’s Note: This article is best read in relation to Fr. Scott Santarosa, S.J.’s article explaining how he missions Jesuits to higher education placements.

There are increasingly fewer Jesuits for the variety of important roles they play at our universities. Fr. Scott R. Santarosa, Jesuit provincial of the Western province, notes that many Jesuits today desire university positions where they can make a wider range of contributions, but providing that range can be challenging. I feel very fortunate that we have attracted Jesuits to Seattle University in several academic roles over the past several years, both tenure track and non-tenure track positions, ranging in experience from seasoned teachers to Jesuits in formation. I also think we have retained some Jesuits we would otherwise have lost by being flexible in recrafting their responsibilities as their interests have shifted post-tenure. Here are some considerations for deans, chairs, and administrators to keep in mind. Ultimately, creativity, flexibility, and advance preparation of both the candidate and the university community are the key.

AJCU schools need their Jesuit faculty to be engaged in broader mission activities. It is very much in the best interest of our institutions and our Jesuit faculty to be engaged in nonacademic components of our mission. They are very important in retaining our character and identity.

Jesuits have a wider range of options than ever before. Given the reduced number of Jesuits, there are many more opportunities for ministry than they can fill; thus they have far more flexibility than in the past. We are competing to recruit and retain Jesuit talent, as is the case with other faculty, but not solely with other universities.

Flexible positions will be much more attractive. Today’s academically oriented Jesuits are more likely to see their academic role as part of a larger mission; think of concrete ways to offer breadth of engagement. For example, they may want a dedicated time commitment to campus ministry that involves teaching one (or two?) fewer courses. Make sure these are not just verbal agreements but are documented in contracts or memoranda of understanding.

Help department chairs and other faculty understand the value of flexibility for Jesuit faculty. This work is in advance of hiring a Jesuit faculty member. Where deans and other administrators see needs that only Jesuits can fill, other faculty members may see Jesuit engagement in nonacademic commitments as unfair to them or a burden to their department. Keep in mind that many current faculty have never seen a Jesuit interview to be in their department. Help the college/university understand those differences in advance.

Jesuits are often interviewed under different conditions than other candidates; strive for similarity with other faculty interviews. When interviewing Jesuit faculty candidates, I think it is best to structure their interview as similar as possible to those of other candidates, whether an “opportunity hire” or not. Similarity is helpful in how the department views the Jesuit as an incoming faculty member meeting the standards of their academic community. Avoid shrinking the academic components of the interview as you add Jesuit-specific components.

Jesuits Joseph Papaj, Lito Salazar, Rocco Danzi, Brent Otto, and Vincent Sullivan enjoying their vocation on the grounds of Saint Peter’s University.

Jesuits Joseph Papaj, Lito Salazar, Rocco Danzi, Brent Otto, and Vincent Sullivan enjoying their vocation on the grounds of Saint Peter’s University.

Jesuit candidates are often, but not always, less prepared for the academic hiring process than other faculty candidates. This is something for consideration in the Jesuit formation process, but Jesuits have often not had as much preparation for the different aspects of the faculty hiring process: how to structure their CV, how to manage the academic components of an interview visit, how to negotiate startup packages or salary. This can be true even when the Jesuit is a seasoned professional coming in from another field. Along with more training, it may be helpful for someone who is inviting the Jesuit for an on-campus visit to provide more explanation of the components of the interview.

Think about and promote how incoming Jesuits can connect beyond the university community. Jesuits live in community but are not cloistered! Like all other faculty applicants, Jesuits want to know they are coming to a place where they can have a full, rich life beyond their faculty role. This will probably have more to do with the nature of local parishes than the quality of local schools. So you might, for instance, include in the recruiting information pastoral opportunities that fit their outside interests.

David Powers is the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a professor of psychology at Seattle University. Previously, he worked as a professor and department chair in the psychology department at Loyola University Maryland.