As I read through the comment threads of various posts, I notice an occasional topic that comes up is interviewers at lower ranked school being resentful toward highly qualified candidates. I have on occasion seen this given as an explanation for why some exceptionally well qualified person did not get an interview, on-campus or offer. There is a dimension to this which seems to never be fully appreciated: on-campus interview resources are quite scarce. We cannot bring out more than four people. If we make an offer to someone, and they turn us down, then we have only the remaining three to choose from, then two, then one, then none. And if we do not hire anyone, it means we will probably lose the line, and have a reduced chance of obtaining or retaining lines in the future. This means that we simply cannot afford to fill the short list with the people we want the most; we must have fallbacks that we can be fairly confident will accept an offer. Despite our efforts to rule out people who are utterly impossible for us to get, every search I've participated in since my hire has led to an offer that was refused. Every. Single. One. In each case, we had eliminated even better people on the assumption that they could not be had, and still we overreached. In every case the candidate we made the first offer to made a great show of how excited they were by our job, until they had another offer in hand (or, in one case, used our offer to negotiate for better pay from the place they preferred).Yes. Hope does spring eternal.
We want excellent people. We want this very much. But we also don't want to lose the line and thereby initiate a slow death-spiral for our department. I don't want to deny that there are occasionally tinges of resentment that some committee members express toward some specific candidates, but my impression is that this is far less the case than one might think. The market will segment itself in any case, and so we make that process more efficient by not wasting people's time on interaction that won't go anywhere in any case, on candidates who do not *need* any help from us.
This year, I tried an experiment. Instead of simply viewing the candidates from the perspective of my own judgments of desirability, I made a mechanical ranking of them according to the Leiter number of their pedigree, and then tried to come up with a comparable ranking for jobs, using Leiter ranking, and when that gives out, US News ranking. All very imprecise of course, but I was merely trying to measure a collective fantasy anyway. Then I paired off candidates to jobs, working from the top down. We had 70 applicants for our position. Once I eliminated both people whose AOS/AOC didn't match what we were looking for anyway, and people who would take better offers elsewhere, the list reduced to six candidates. Since it seemed silly to go to the APA for only six interviews, we added three to the list, but these were therefore people I had already judged to be "ungettable." I should clarify that this procedure did not control our list, but the other members of the committee ended up with almost exactly the same list using non-mechanical criteria. While at the APA, one of these three indicated that she already had stellar on-campus interviews lined up and wasn't really interested in us anymore; another one has already appeared in an online announcement as giving a talk at one of the stellar hiring departments. We knew that interviewing them was a waste of time, and indeed it was. However, I'm sure that some stars we didn't even interview at the APA will conclude that we "resent" them or feel "threatened" by them. Honestly, we don't. We just can't afford to waste the resources on recruiting them. If we have done anything wrong over the years, it is overreach, because hope springs eternal.