Inspired by the discussion of ‘Moneyball’ hiring in economics at George Mason, we have discussion of whether this is a good way to build a department from Dan Drezner at Open University and one entry in the burgeoning network of political science rumor blogs. I’ll own up to my contribution to the debate:
The commenter on Dan Drezner’s article makes a good point, in that we’re not really talking about “Moneyball” here [in the blog]—Moneyball is taking people that are undervalued by the market at large (like non-top-X PhDs who may have other indicators of strong potential, or top-X PhDs who look weak due to being in a large cohort) and making the most of them while you can until they find greener pastures (in baseball, free agency; in academe, accumulating the publication record to offset their previous undervaluing and get a higher-positioned job), which fits [Southern Illinois University-Carbondale’s political science department] to a tee. Moneyball isn’t bringing people in for lifetime tenure, which is what most people think a “top-X” department should look like.
It’s not entirely a dead-end strategy… if you get enough ex-faculty out there, your department may look comparatively stronger by word of mouth than one that largely retains its initial hires. Certainly SIU gets better WoM than a lot of other non-top-X departments for that very reason, and over the long term that may build SIU vis a vis other low-to-middling tier PhD departments.
As the commenters at Open University note there are some other key differences between baseball and academe (notably the absence of locked-in long-term contracts, which allows for more “free agent” poaching in political science), but I’m not sure they matter much except for the most “movable” prospects—once on the tenure track, the modal number of job changes is either 0 or 1 in political science. That does suggest, however that departments trying to play Moneyball may need to consider intangibles that might reduce candidate mobility, so they can keep people longer than the market would normally allow.
Obligatory disclaimer: I have applied for positions at SIUC in the past, and have zero offers to show for it (else I wouldn’t be sitting here); whether this indicates some lack of Moneyballing skill on their part, or just good taste, is left as an open question.