So, after asking questions here (after joining a conversation here), I promised to let everyone know what I, as a candidate, think about the FAR forms and Tim's questions about them. It is, of course, a question many of our readers could answer themselves, having been through the process from this side, but perhaps things have changed somewhat in recent years to change things from when many of you went through the process. As an aside, this is now my fourth draft of this post, each looking dramatically different from any other. Maybe now that the first release is "out" (how many are there, anyway?), I can finally get one that I'm comfortable with.
So, the form -- I think it covers what it needs to cover for the purposes that it has traditionally served: weeding out those who can "easily" be weeded out, and allowing school hiring committees to make the necessary though perhaps somewhat arbitrary choices beyond that. After hearing how two committees use it, I'm not sure what additional information could be included on the form that would be useful in these terms (though I do make one specific suggestion, below). More information would slow the process down, or would simply go unused by committees due to the volume of forms submitted (did I already ask how many forms were in the first distribution?).
In fact, in further reflecting on this, I think it is not the form that is the problem in law school hiring (if there is in fact a problem; I leave that question to you, dear readers). Let me explain: It seems to me there are two ways in which the form is used: first there is Tim's experience, where a school is primarily looking to match curricular needs. The form works for that, and I'd say works pretty well. It narrows the scope of people to those who have an expressed interest in subjects the school is looking to fill. What happens after that initial cut is another question, but we'll get to that.
The second kind of use is like that by those schools which, like Jacqui's, are looking to find the "best candidate" regardless of subject area (or to at least identify those people and consider whether what they offer can be made to fit the school's needs or desires). This raises the point of what happens after the "initial cut" in the curricular needs area quite well. What this says to me is that it is not the form that is the question here, but the qualifications of the candidates that law schools value. I won't get into that debate at this point, but I will try to stick with the questions about the form itself, and whether the form shows what it should show.
Before proceeding, though, I should say that I would not remove the ethnic origin information from the form: I strongly support diversifying the ethnic backgrounds of law faculty, and Jacqui's example of the form's use for that purpose seems right on the mark to me.
Nor would I try to remove identifying information (this preference is more self-serving than the last); for me to get "out of the pile" with my history, experience, and qualifications, I am likely to have to rely on personal connections and unique experiences. I think if the form was anonymous, having my references and colleagues contact people at schools with needs I can meet would be difficult, if not impossible. I can imagine the conversation when one reference calls Jacqui:
Jacqui: "Hello, reference X, what can I do for you?"
Reference X: "I'm calling about candidate XY775659A-L. He's, wait, excuse me, the candidate is a young scholar who has pursued his, oops, sorry, has pursued teaching as a chosen field relentlessly, has published good work that is stirring debate and being cited, and one time Mr. Heverly even, oh, wait, sorry, forget I said that. Let's start over."
You get the idea. I may need to pull strings to be "seen" at AALS, and to do that, I think I need to be identified. I want anyone who has an inkling that I might be "interviewable" to find something if they Google me, something that hopefully will make them say, "Hm, ok, let's look at him more closely." I want them, if they're curious, to run the cite from my Berkeley article to see how often it's been cited. I don't think I get that with an anonymous form, and though I don't expect it will happen spontaneously, I'm hoping after direct contact with me in the form of an E-mail, a letter and a CV, followed up by contact from references and supportive colleagues, it just might. I at least want the possibility to be there.
Ok, those thoughts out of the way, I had the idea initially that the form could go away, and that those "after the curricular need" decisions could be based on something other than the form. That is, instead of a one-pager that everyone prints out, there could simply be a database of information, lots of information, provided by the candidate. Hiring committees could then search through it, and using a variety of metrics, find interesting and diverse (in many respects) candidates they would like to see.
But now that I know committees still look at all the forms (as a norm if not a rule), perhaps such a database could be used to supplement the form (I like it that this may be the norm, I think it values the efforts all the candidates have made in submitting their forms). In other words, make first cuts after looking at the forms, and then get additional info from the database prior to making interview offers. I think a using a database alone would make it harder, not easier, because you can't easily look at all the candidates on equal ground.
Would more information, or different information, help? Right now a candidate's CV is "attached" to the FAR form, and can be downloaded by committees who wish to see it. In my experience, this is not necessarily done. I have yet to see one of my CVs in an interview room, and when I went through this process the last time, when I contacted schools to whom I had sent my CV directly to "push" for interviews, I needed to send it again. That's ok, but it probably reduces (to zero?) the usefulness of the idea of a searchable database of additional information.
I would love to be able to tell my "story" to get "out of the pile" and into an interview room in Washington, but I really can't find a reasonable way, given the sheer volume of applications (okay already, how many forms ARE there in the first distribution??) to make that work. There are simply too many people who want this job (and there's good reason for that: I love my job, and that's why I continue to pursue it).
All of this said, the one thing that might be useful from this candidate's perspective is a little more, just a little more, room for unstructured comment at the end (usually comment fields are topical -- related to a field nearby, such as the list of courses you have taught -- and are limited to 255 characters); perhaps just a little additional space at the end, in the final comment, to add in more publications (I had to shorten names of my works in progress to fit them), or mention a special additional reference, or just represent yourself, so that if someone does "stop" at your form, they can quickly see a little more of "you" there.
So, Tim, I hope I've answered your question: yes, I wish I could represent myself differently on the form, but I'm not sure it would matter or that it would "help" my search given the practical realities of law school hiring (given my "non-traditional" history). Maybe the process continues to drive the substance of hiring, but with such a deep pool of candidates, that seems unlikely to change anytime in the near future, and I'm not sure that anything we could create would serve the purpose any better (unless, of course, it put my name at the top of everyone's lists!). Oh, by the way, my FAR form now has a number on it, and it's not as high as I expected. How many FAR forms are in the first distribution?