letter vetter.

Like most of you, I’m sure, I write a fair number of recommendation letters for students. The vast majority are for internal programs (usually study abroad) because such things abound at this university. However, I still write a number of letters for fellowships, summer programs, graduate schools, and so forth.

Never ever have I been asked to share these letters with anyone. However, today I got an email from a colleague (outside of my department, who I don’t know personally) who told me that a letter I’m currently working on must be approved by her office before it goes out. Is this common practice?

I’ve felt pressure before – wondering if my students’ success hinges on the quality of my letter – but the pressure (tinged with outrage) that I feel this time is qualitatively different.

6 thoughts on “letter vetter.”

  1. I have never heard of this, although I can imagine some reasons why they might do it — i.e. if the school has to recommend someone, especially if the school’s recommendation is competitive. I have certainly known of cases where my recommendation was forwarded to a campus selection committee which decided which applications would be sent from the campus. Another thought I had is this: some professors write really bad letters (bad as in trying to be positive but actually messing it up), and they may wish to decide which ones would do any good as part of putting together a placement file, and/or they may wish to use reference letter quality as a basis for advising. This possibility seems more likely to be me if this is a small undergraduate-focused institution. My suggestion: Just email the person back and ask what is going on and expressing your surprise (but holding back on the voiced outrage). My guess is that you’ll get an explanation back. You may not agree with it, but then at least you’ll know where you stand.


  2. It is a case where the school seems to have chosen who to nominate for this competitive award, but it appears that selection has been made and this “review” is just that, a review and not part of the nomination process.

    Asking (and I should clarify that it’s a tinge, not an appreciable amount, of outrage) the purpose – and perhaps important criteria to keep in mind – is a great idea.


  3. I wrote a letter for a student who was applying to law school. Rather than giving the letter to the student or the programs he was applying, I was required to send it to the law school on my own campus, which apparently vetted the letters before making copies to send to the programs to which the student was actually applying. I suppose that they knew better than I what type of letters law schools like to receive, but it struck me as bizarre.


  4. Does this mean that when we receive of letter of recommendation, we need to ask the letter writer whether the letter is coming to us direct or whether it has been screened by a committee?


  5. I’ve seen some “bad” letters written by people who meant to write good letters, who were either too preoccupied with their own agendas to bother with the conventions of US reference letters (where it is not enough to be positive, you have to give lots of details or you are read as “restrained” or “uninformative”) or ignorant of the conventions and not realizing how their letters were being read. Or not realizing that if you are at a relatively unknown or low status institution, you have to qualify yourself as a letter writer and not just talk about how well the student did in your class. A sad truth is that the US academy is highly personalistic and evaluates the letter writers at least as much as it evaluates the candidates. I’ve watched it happen in committee reviews.


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