Make selection fairer

November 20, 1998

A commonly used procedure apparently being imposed by personnel departments in making academic appointments at all levels - that of forming a shortlist on the basis of applications alone, and then asking for references, but only for the selected candidates - is, we believe, misguided.

The excuse is a saving of time and correspondence. But in fact it is more economical overall to ask for all references to be sent in without further request by the closing date.

In any case, the advantages far outweigh the costs. If appointing committees have before them both the applications and the references for all candidates, they have the best chance to make a fair assessment, without being biased by personal connections or by the mere names of those cited as referees, without knowing what they would say, or the prestige or otherwise of the institutions from which the candidates come. But in a context in which the number of higher education institutions has greatly increased, every effort ought to be made to give the fullest chance to all candidates.

Universities exist in order to devote serious efforts to forming judgements on the basis of the fullest information. This principle must be applied also to appointments.

M. H. Crawford Department of history University College London

F. G. B. Millar Professor of ancient history Brasenose College, Oxford

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