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habeas dorkus!

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Ethical question about a LOR
« on: June 22, 2006, 04:32:07 PM »
I had a former employee ask me for a letter of recommendation for an internship today. While I've written letters before, I've never been asked for one by a student I think has no business being in her field of study. I can't in good conscience write the student a good letter of recommendation. My question is: Would it be better to write her a mediocre letter of recommendation, or tell her that I don't want to write one at all? Her app is aparently due in a few days, so I need to respond soon.
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juliemccoy

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Re: Ethical question about a LOR
« Reply #1 on: June 22, 2006, 04:37:41 PM »
Tell her you don't feel you can write her an LOR. That's all. If she presses, tell her that she waited too long and you don't have time. She's going for the internship to investigate a particular career path, not make a life-long committment to a certain field of work.
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Miss P

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Re: Ethical question about a LOR
« Reply #2 on: June 22, 2006, 05:17:54 PM »
If you like this person (which it sounds as if you might, given your inclination to write a letter even though you don't support her), the best thing to do is to have a frank conversation and tell her that you don't think you would be able to write a good recommendation.  Explain your reasoning in brief.  Then let her decide if she still wants the rec. from you.  She may say, for instance, that she is interested in submitting a letter from you even if it is lukewarm about her future in X field because she knows you can highlight some of her good qualities that are not otherwise apparent on her application.  You never know.
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Miss P

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Re: Ethical question about a LOR
« Reply #3 on: June 22, 2006, 06:25:03 PM »
I think it's fairly arrogant to take it upon oneself to determine whether or not someone is cut out for a particular field of study.  I know I'd feel incredibly uncomfortable making a statement like that when my own personal feelings on the subject could possibly stop someone from going on to do great things. 

Perhaps start a conversation about other fields the person in question might think more about, but unless they're a total loser or you despise them, if you don't think you can write a letter recommending them for something in particular, then just write a letter about the qualities you do admire in the person. 

The school (or wherever they're applying) has enough other information, presumably, to determine whether or not the applicant is suitable for what they want to do where you don't necessarily have to confront that issue in what is presumably going to be a few paragraphs. 

I pretty much agree with you Sax, though part of me thinks that if any of us is qualified to judge people's qualifications, it's HD!

But the issue is not only whether HD will recommend someone about whom she has doubts, though I think this is a fair ethical question.  If she thinks she is only going to write an unenthusiastic (or worse) letter, one that may hurt the candidate, she should let the candidate know so the candidate can search for a new recommender.  I would hope my recommenders would do this for me.

Also, we all rely on the integrity of the recommendation process: we need our enthusiastic letters to be taken seriously and not cheapened by false praise from uncommitted recommenders.
That's cool how you referenced a case.

Quote from: archival
I'm so far from the end of my tether right now that I reckon I could knit myself some socks with the slack.

Mr. Pink

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Re: Ethical question about a LOR
« Reply #4 on: June 22, 2006, 06:27:55 PM »
Write her the best letter you can. 
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Jolie Was Here

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Re: Ethical question about a LOR
« Reply #5 on: June 22, 2006, 06:29:19 PM »
Hmm.  I'm with my friends on this one.  You don't need to sabotage her future prospects, you don't need to be savage and heartless, but I think it IS important to be simply honest and straitforward.  

If you have any misgivings, you shouldn't be writing the letter.  As someone who works in employment relations (and who has had to evaluate candidates based on recommendations in the past), a lukewarm or vanilla LOR can hurt a candidate's application more than silence would have.  And remember, with a recommendation you are putting your professional standing in this person's corner.  If you were an engineer and someone asked you to endorse a product you suspected might not really work that well, would you go ahead and do it so as not to hurt the person's feelings?  Hyperbolic metaphor, but you catch my drift.  
I was referring to your intellectual penis. Which is quite robust.

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Miss P

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Re: Ethical question about a LOR
« Reply #6 on: June 22, 2006, 06:29:53 PM »
Write her the best letter you can. 

But don't you think HD also needs to let her know about the weak parts of the letter?  
That's cool how you referenced a case.

Quote from: archival
I'm so far from the end of my tether right now that I reckon I could knit myself some socks with the slack.

queencruella

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Re: Ethical question about a LOR
« Reply #7 on: June 22, 2006, 06:42:28 PM »
I think honesty is the best policy. I say follow Andrew's suggestion and set up a time to talk with your employee to find out more about why she wants to pursue that career path. She may choose not to follow your advice, but as a professional, I think you owe it to her to be honest. If she decides to find someone else to write her a recommendation and gets the job, she'll either use what you said to her to prove you wrong or if she dislikes it, be glad that you warned her of what might happen should she take that internship. Both will provide her with a valuable learning experience, I think.

habeas dorkus!

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Re: Ethical question about a LOR
« Reply #8 on: June 22, 2006, 07:48:53 PM »
Thanks for the advice, everyone. I'm going to think about it for the next hour or two, but I'm pretty sure I'm just going to call her (she's in another city now) and tell her I don't feel comfortable writing it, with a brief (and hopefully kind) explanation of why.

I don't want to do anything to sabotage this girl's career prospects, but writing a good LOR is absolutely out of the question as far as I'm concerned -- I would, in my mind, be misrepresenting her abilities. I also agree completely with Miss P that failing to distinguish between mediocrity and exceptionality is a bad policy -- both ethically and practically speaking.

Moreover, this isn't just someone who failed to "wow" me -- it's someone who was BAD at what she did, and made my job more difficult. She also acted unprofessionally and unethically on multiple occasions. Had she not chosen to leave when she did, she would have been fired.
Stop being so cryptic, fuckers.

queencruella

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Re: Ethical question about a LOR
« Reply #9 on: June 22, 2006, 08:12:54 PM »
Ugh- it sounds like she needs a reality check. My guess is that she probably has no clue she's as bad as you say she is. Even if you mentioned it before, she may have conveniently forgotten any comments you've given her. If you can think of anything she is good at, just stick that in the letter to soften the blow and encourage her to pursue something that used those strengths instead of continuing this path that is so obviously wrong for her.