Candidates may assume that we're googling them, but are we? In searches I've served in or chaired, the answer is no, for both ethical and practical reasons:
- Practical: If the average search in English draws from 100-400 applicants (with some searches, I've heard, drawing 700+ applicants), who has the time? Even if you were to google only the top 50 or so, that's still a lot of computer time.
- Ethical and practical: Don't we already have a lot of data (or "data points," if you want to be fashionable) about the candidates? CV, cover letter, rec letters, teaching/research statements, and writing samples--don't these provide a fairer picture than a random google search?
- Ethical: What if the candidate has a common name and the first thing that comes up is a mug shot . . . of someone with the same name? Or if the name-alike or the candidate has really unsavory views on something? What if s/he went through a phase of huge Goth disaffection with The System and posted said disaffection over the internet--should that taint your view of him/her?
- Ethical: Conversely, if the candidate has assiduously promoted himself/herself through Pinterest/Facebook/Twitter/Storify/blogs and so on, having a big ego and a good sense of public relations doesn't necessarily mean that the candidate is a better or more accomplished researcher than a less self-promoting candidate. How could you separate these from the other data, once you knew about them?
- Ethical and practical: I can best sum this one up by saying (1) we want to be fair and (2) HR would have our heads on a pike if we made decisions this way. The whole point of job search procedures, which are very well defined, is to level the playing field. It's hard enough to know how to deal ethically with additional information, such as supporting emails or phone calls received from those at other universities, without addressing google searches.
- Ethical and practical: What if the first thing that turns up is teacher evaluations from you-know-which site, for which "help yourself to vengeance" could be a motto? Could you refrain from reading them?
One of the most satisfying parts of being a search chair, which is a hellacious amount of work, is having the power to run a fair and equitable search and make sure that everyone is given the same consideration. I don't think googling them accomplishes that, but is refusing to google just hopelessly outdated as a concept? Bardiac? Flavia? You've both posted recently about the job market; what do you say?