Letter to the Editor: The familiarity principle hiring issue

Relying on internal hires for leadership roles results in missed opportunities for increased representation within University of Minnesota leadership.

by Peter Morrell

This letter to the editor was written in response to a July 12 Minnesota Daily article and a July 18 Letter to the Editor.

As pointed out by University of Minnesota Regent Darrin Rosha, former Minnesota governor Arne Carlson, former legislator Tom Berkelman and University professor Richard Painter in their letter to the Legislative Audit Commission, the hiring of former regent David McMillan for the position of chancellor at the University of Minnesota Duluth creates the appearance of a violation of ethical standards. “Mere-exposure effect,” also known as the “familiarity principle,” is a serious issue in the hiring process, making candidates we are already acquainted with more appealing. Regardless of Mr. McMillan’s qualifications, internal hires in Minnesota deprive our community of opportunities for exposure to a greater breadth of origins and experience than is found locally. Public universities play a very important role in creating opportunity and social mobility. Internal hires for leadership roles can be a missed opportunity in terms of making our university more representative of the communities we serve.

Perhaps this relatively high-profile situation provides an opportunity to assess our hiring practices more generally? Does mere-exposure effect influence other hiring decisions and if so, how do we address this problem as we work to create the diverse university community our state and region need?

This letter was submitted by Peter Morrell, a University professor of computational biology in the Department of Agronomy and Plant Genetics. Morrell teaches a course on “The Science of Cannabis” and a Grand Challenges course on “World Food Problems.”  

This letter has been lightly edited for style and clarity.