Author Topic: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...  (Read 12739 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Orisha

  • Guest
Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« on: July 10, 2010, 10:02:13 PM »
I'm an adjunct professor, finishing up a PhD at Flagship U.  A longtime friend of IL family has a son who is looking at colleges and they've started to pressure me to write a letter of recommendation for this kid.  I'm just not going to, because, to be blunt, this kid (let's call him G) has absolutely no business in college.  (Or trade school, for that matter.)  He's a mediocre student at best (D or lower), he's lazy and he's got a lot of anti-social behavior issues.  (Swearing at teachers, getting into fights, etc.)  But his mother has decided that he should attend college because "that's what people do."  I do feel slightly sorry for the kid - his parents are some of the most dysfunctional and useless individuals on the planet - but I've worked very hard to build up my repuation in my field.  As such, I'm very picky about whom I'll stake that reputation on and I won't write mediocre or neutral letters.   

I've tried bean dipping "I'm afraid that won't be possible," no explanation.  I've even tried, I'm sorry, but I have no knowledge of G's academic work and would have to say as much in a letter, so I'm not really a good person to ask.  But neither seems to be deterring the kid's mother or my in-laws.  (Neither Mr. O's parents, nor G's parents ever went to college, so I'm not sure they understand why my lack of background on G's school work matters even though I've tried to explain.)  In any case, I do not write basic factual or mediocre recommendations.  I think making an exception for this situation would create more problems because G's mother would undoubtedly demand to see the letter.  The reality is that all I'd really feel comfortable writing is "I've known G for X years in such and such a capacity.  I have no knowledge of his academic work."  It's not mean, but it's hardly the glowing rec she expects me to write.  I'm not about to lie on the letter either.  Help me, oh wise e-hellions...how do I politely get these people off my back?

shhh its me

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 6450
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2010, 10:45:17 PM »
 To my ILs (not the child's mother ever) I might ask , what do you want me to write he's a D student with  violent behavioral issues? Stop asking me or your friend will get the truth. I prefer to say nothing since I have nothing nice to say. He's own teachers would make a much better reference.

For the mother I'd continue bean dipping ...the time limit for applications has to be up soon?

Bob Ducca

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 5334
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2010, 10:56:36 PM »
I would ask her point blank, "What is it you want me to say?"  When she tells you, you say, "I can't write that, I've never taught him/have no experience with him/know that's not true."

Here's the thing: there may be no way to get out of this without being direct, but that doesn't mean it's not polite to do so.  "I'm sorry, that won't be possible," "No," "I'm afraid I simply can't do that," are all fine.  The problem, of course, is the "WHY???" that will follow, and it's up to you to decide how far you want to go with it.

If it is someone for whom you think it might work, could you say, "I'm sorry, I can't put my professional reputation on the line writing a recommendation for someone I don't honestly feel merits it."  If not, it wouldn't be rude at all to say, "I don't know him very well, but from everything I've heard, I don't think I can honestly recommend him."


Miss Understood

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1172
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2010, 11:17:53 PM »
I would ask her point blank, "What is it you want me to say?"  When she tells you, you say, "I can't write that, I've never taught him/have no experience with him/know that's not true."

Here's the thing: there may be no way to get out of this without being direct, but that doesn't mean it's not polite to do so.  "I'm sorry, that won't be possible," "No," "I'm afraid I simply can't do that," are all fine.  The problem, of course, is the "WHY???" that will follow, and it's up to you to decide how far you want to go with it.

If it is someone for whom you think it might work, could you say, "I'm sorry, I can't put my professional reputation on the line writing a recommendation for someone I don't honestly feel merits it."  If not, it wouldn't be rude at all to say, "I don't know him very well, but from everything I've heard, I don't think I can honestly recommend him."



POD to this whole post.  How on earth could you recommend a young person that you haven't taught and who has never exhibited any kind of academic initiative?

MsMarjorie

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 1458
  • The world was my oyster but I used the wrong fork
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2010, 03:10:13 AM »
I know this is a white lie but could you tell G's parents that you only write recommendations for people that you have taught?  Repeat this every time they ask you until they simply give up.  I should imagine that G's parents are hesitant to get a reference from his current teachers because they don't want the truth. 

Orisha

  • Guest
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #5 on: July 11, 2010, 11:08:17 AM »
I know this is a white lie but could you tell G's parents that you only write recommendations for people that you have taught?  Repeat this every time they ask you until they simply give up.  I should imagine that G's parents are hesitant to get a reference from his current teachers because they don't want the truth. 

This wouldn't be a white lie.  Theoretically, I could write a character reference for a student I haven't taught, but that's not the same as a letter of recommendation.  In college admissions, I suspect that such letters don't hold a whole lot of weight, excepting perhaps, if it comes from Superfamous Scholar (which I'm not).  And a netural letter like I described above is poison, because an admissions committee will read between the lines and realize "hey, she's know this kid for most of his life and she can't find one nice thing to say?" 


kherbert05

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 9933
    • Trees downed in my yard by Ike and the clean up
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #6 on: July 11, 2010, 12:42:02 PM »
What kind of people are your IL? Can you tell them the truth that writing this JD a letter or recommendation would do great harm to your reputation and career so you will not do it? Would they back you up or would that cause a huge dust-up?

Years ago my Maternal Grandparents approached my Dad about sponsoring one of my uncles for a green card. Dad told them he would be legally responsible for Uncle's behavior. Uncle had a habit of calling us at 2 am 9 sheets to the wind raising hell in other countries.

Dad explained that if Uncle got in trouble while drunk, Dad would lose his job. His employer couldn't give certain parties that type of amo. My grandparents basically told Uncle - see your behavior lost you a good opportunity. They completely backed my Dad.
Don't Teach Them For Your Past. Teach Them For Their Future

QueenofAllThings

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2921
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2010, 08:27:41 PM »
Back when I was merely the PrincessofAllthings, my parents requested that my uncle draft a rec for me to an ivy league. He refused. We'll never know why, and my mother and I were furious for years. She still is. HOWEVER, while I had the ability, I did not, at the time, have the desire and he was right to refuse.

He was absolutely right to refuse. Even if he were wrong, it was his right to refuse.

I still don't like him, though - but that's a different story.

Orisha

  • Guest
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #8 on: July 12, 2010, 12:58:26 AM »
What kind of people are your IL? Can you tell them the truth that writing this JD a letter or recommendation would do great harm to your reputation and career so you will not do it? Would they back you up or would that cause a huge dust-up?

My ILs don't work in fields where reputations matter all that much, beyond generally being a good worker.  And they tend to see faaaaammmmily and faaaaamilly friends as above all.  They are also super-sensitive types who are all about the nicey-nice.  I obviously believe in being polite, but I also want them to understand that I'm under no obligation to jepardize my reputation for a poor risk.  The real kicker is that ILs and JD's mother have repeatedly criticized my career choices - they are anti-intellectual types - until they can see some usefulness to them and JD's mother's been a jerk to me in the past.  If I thought that G was worth it, I'd put my distain for his mother aside and write the letter.  (As kids don't chose there parents!)  But he's not.

kudeebee

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2078
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #9 on: July 12, 2010, 04:46:50 AM »
Reply as suggested by a pp:  "I only write recommendation letters for students I have taught."  Repeat this every.single.time.  No other explanation is necessary.

sasha

  • Member
  • **
  • Posts: 537
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #10 on: July 12, 2010, 01:17:06 PM »

This wouldn't be a white lie.  Theoretically, I could write a character reference for a student I haven't taught, but that's not the same as a letter of recommendation.  In college admissions, I suspect that such letters don't hold a whole lot of weight, excepting perhaps, if it comes from Superfamous Scholar (which I'm not).  And a netural letter like I described above is poison, because an admissions committee will read between the lines and realize "hey, she's know this kid for most of his life and she can't find one nice thing to say?" 

On the other hand, I think you might be conflating undergraduate admissions and graduate admissions. They are not the same processes at all. Such a letter would be poison for grad admissions, but depending on the selectiveness of the college, a character reference might be fine (although more appropriate if it was something like a volunteer work supervisor, etc). If you are only worried about your reputation, it is highly unlikely (at most colleges) that it will be read by anyone in your field; usually only admissions counselors deal with application materials. And admissions counselors are unlikely to know your name, even if you were a superfamous scholar.

That being said, I wouldn't write the letter, either. I would just deflect by telling the mother that the kid's high school teachers will make much better letter writers. (I might play dumb about the kid's academic peformance and say it should be easy to ask a teacher or two as they are used to being asked for such letters.)

Sasha

Jocelyn

  • Hero Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 2729
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #11 on: July 12, 2010, 02:16:50 PM »
I think a letter from a professor that doesn't address the student's academic prowess OR good character is going to be damning for undergrad as well as grad.  He HAS no academic prowess OR good character, you can't write about things a student doesn't do, or you might as well write about his lack of aptitude for science and that he can't carry a tune.
I'd be falling back on 'surely his high school teachers can give a more accurate appraisal of his ability for college work than I can'. Of course, they're trying to avoid using those references because they know it will be a letter of reference but not a letter of recommendation.  >:D

artk2002

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 12557
    • The Delian's Commonwealth
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #12 on: July 12, 2010, 06:37:18 PM »
And a netural letter like I described above is poison, because an admissions committee will read between the lines and realize "hey, she's know this kid for most of his life and she can't find one nice thing to say?" 

That plus his "stellar" academic record would tell them all that they need to know.

You can always include some coded phrases:  "You will be fortunate to get him studying at your school."
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Twik

  • A Pillar of the Forum
  • *****
  • Posts: 27848
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #13 on: July 13, 2010, 10:45:44 AM »
I'd tell the mother that your letter would be unlikely to help (true), and that letters from the child's teachers would carry much more weight (also true).

If she says that "his teachers won't write endorsements," I'd have to counter with, "then what are you expecting me to write, if the people who know his academic qualifications best don't support his admission?"

(If she demands you write *something*, you could go with "perhaps a more challenging environment will assist in bringing out Junior's full potential". (Potential for what, one doesn't have to say.))
My cousin's memoir of love and loneliness while raising a child with multiple disabilities will be out on Amazon soon! Know the Night, by Maria Mutch, has been called "full of hope, light, and companionship for surviving the small hours of the night."

bopper

  • Super Hero!
  • ****
  • Posts: 12011
Re: Letter of Recommendation/friend of the family...
« Reply #14 on: July 13, 2010, 04:07:04 PM »
"I don't feel comfortable writing a positive recommendation because I don't know Junior's work at all. If I wrote a neutral one the people who read it would know I don't have anything positive to say so that would not be helpful.  Does he have a particular teacher he feels close to? A boss? A coach? Youth Minister? I think people with whom he has interacted on a more frequent basis would be a better source.  If he doesn't have anyone like that he better work real hard on creating that type of positive relationship quick!"