are adjuncts asked to write too many reference letters?

A Twitter exchange in response to my post saying that mediocre students deserve reference letters raised the problem of adjuncts’ reference-writing woes. Some adjuncts apparently get asked to write a lot more letters of reference than many full professors.  Some of the people who are being asked to write a lot of letters are contingent faculty who are already being overworked for poverty wages and it seems particularly unjust for them to be expected to shoulder this burden. My Twitter exchange was with an adjunct who teaches in five different departments and has a post doc besides, so I’m going to assume that the wage per course for this person is low. There are, of course, other adjuncts who are in regular non-contingent positions for reasonably good wages whose situation is somewhat different.

Writing a reference letter for an undergraduate takes at least 3 hours. Continue reading “are adjuncts asked to write too many reference letters?”

interfolio, letters and such

I realize this is just another instance of a privileged person not knowing what is going on, but I have just become aware that the price to an applicant of having reference letters sent out via Interfolio is now $6 “per delivery” (which can be one letter or a whole set of letters or a whole application packet), and is the same fee for email as for paper mail (which seems outrageous to me). Some years ago our department started asking our grads to use Interfolio and picked up the initial fee for setting up the service. The reason for the shift is that producing paper letters for students applying to a large number of jobs had become a huge problem for our downsized office staff in our large department. My memory (admittedly very hazy) is that when we discussed this many years ago, the initial fee included a certain number of letters and the incremental price of letters over that initial number seemed fairly low. But maybe even then we were not paying enough attention. In any event, I now know how costly this is for applicants and am motivated to seek alternatives.

I know that the mathematics association has a centralized application portal that is paid for by employers and is free to applicants: . Setting something like this up for sociology would require some initial investment in overhead, although as models for this already exist, one imagines it would not involve reinventing the wheel. This seems like something our ASA dues ought to pay for, and should be attached to the Employment Bulletin (as it is attached to job ads for mathematicians.) Are there other models out there?

And in the mean time, what is the situation in other departments about getting reference letters produced? Do you have your office staff tasked to produce and submit letters via email or paper? Do you expect your faculty to manage the clerical task of generating dozens of letters for each student they are writing for? And in reading them on the other end? As a file evaluator, do you expect to see what appear to be individually-tailored (i.e. mail-merged) letters for every applicant? Do you downgrade applicants whose letters appear to be generic, especially if they do not have your institution in the inside address? Because I know we send out mass-produced letters, I personally do NOT weigh this as a factor, but I want to know what others think.

Opinions, thoughts, experiences appreciated.

Edit: To clarify pricing. A “delivery” is $6, whether by email or paper mail. A “delivery” can be an entire application packet including cover letter, cv, teaching statement, writing sample, and all letters, in which case the $6 for a paper portfolio is pretty reasonable, although a case can be made that the $6 for emailing the packet is overpriced. But if the applicant is only using the system to send reference letters and is sending them individually, an applicant would be spending $18 for three letters or $30 for five letters, which is really way too much.  In addition, the price is $4 per item to send a reference letter to an on-line portal, in which case the price would be $12-$20, depending on the number of letters.  If the receiving institution has an interfolio account and requires interfolio submission, the charge to the applicant is zero.