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Author Topic: External Letters When you Can't Know Anyone?  (Read 8221 times)
riptide
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I should have been a donut maker.


« on: April 29, 2012, 3:06:41 PM »


I need to create a list of external letters for my tenure review.  They can NOT be anyone I know.


My research is in a small sub-field, within my discipline, so I "know" most of the people. 

So ...

1)  How does one go about creating a list?  Should I ask the people I do know who they would suggest as being "reasonable" and not a "loose cannon?"


2) Do the reviewers have to be in my sub-field?   Or can I select reviewers in my discipline but may not be familiar with my sub-field? 


3) I have read that I should have the majority of reviews be from "established white males?" Is this accurate?


**4)  Are the reviewer's evaluating based on their criteria for tenure, or based on my university's criteria  for tenure?   


Thanks for any advice you might have.
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Quote from Jackit: on June 13, 2009 1:55:33 PM
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polly_mer
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Have you worked on that project today?


« Reply #1 on: April 29, 2012, 3:49:32 PM »

I have no idea how one gets letters from people one doesn't know, so I'll be interested in seeing the responses.
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I've joined a bizarre cult called JordanCanonicalForm's Witnesses.  I have to go from door to door asking people things like, "Good evening, sir!  Do you have a moment to chat about Linear Transformations?"
wanna_writemore
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« Reply #2 on: April 29, 2012, 4:05:30 PM »

You need to figure out what level of not knowing these people is required at your institution.  At mine, for example, people you've been on a panel with or had a conference meal with are okay, but closer relationships are somewhere between frowned upon and unacceptable.

I got an excellent letter from someone I'd never met for my tenure portfolio last summer.  I gave the name to my dept. chair with the others, he sent out the standard email asking if the person would review it, and the person said yes.  I chose him because I'm in a small subfield and there are few people who work on related topics.

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shrek
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« Reply #3 on: April 29, 2012, 4:17:35 PM »

make a list and openly describe your "relationship"--
Dr. XYZ-- never published together, never presented together, no previous teaching relationship, have had contact at conferences
Dr. AB-- never published together, have been on same advisory panel for xy project
etc.

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hegemony
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« Reply #4 on: April 29, 2012, 4:24:27 PM »

Established white males?  However would that be the case?  "Established" I can see the point of, but why ever would someone care about the whiteness or the gender?  Even apart from the objectionable aspects of this, which are enormous, of course.  How are they going to tell if the names you submit are white?  Do you submit the stats --

John Doe - professor at Prestige U., met once at a conference, white and Republican
James Smith - professor at U. of High Rank, reviewed his book once, white but looks a little suspicious, could have Italian ancestry
Jack Ruiz - professor at Status U., name gives it away, probably Hispanic and unacceptable

I'm exaggerating, of course, but why ever does this come into it?  Or are you baiting us?
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Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight.
ruralguy
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Full Prof; STEM; SLAC; Rural US


« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2012, 4:27:27 PM »

The not know doesn't mean "not ever met". It probably just means you can't have had a working relationship with the person, such as adviser/advisee, professor/student, collaboration on a paper, etc. But sure, ask the Dean how this should be interpreted.
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systeme_d_
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No T, no shade. Usually.


« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2012, 4:43:34 PM »

Here's how I did it.

Let's say I am a specialist in the Religion of Saharan Basketweaving in the 17th century.

I had to make a list of ten people with whom I had no strong scholarly or social connections.  

My list was comprised of two people who study the History of Saharan Basketweaving in the 17th century, three people who study the Religion of Saharan Basketweaving, three scholars of the Religion of Basketweaving in the 17th century, and two scholars of the Religion of Basketweaving.

I had never met six of these people.  I had met four of them, but only briefly, and I had never collaborated with any of them in any capacity.

I had also heard the "established white males" thing when I was going up for tenure.  It's basically a nod to the fact that despite the diversification of academia, in some fields, the most respected "top dogs" still tend to be older white men.  While I did include some older white men on my list of ten, it just so happened that only one of the three folks who ended up as reviewers was an old white man.

And Polly, one's chair solicits the letters.  You don't contact the potential reviewers at all.  Then all of your scholarship is sent to the folks who agree to review your tenure case.

« Last Edit: April 29, 2012, 4:45:06 PM by systeme_d_ » Logged

snowbound
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« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2012, 5:24:21 PM »

The process where I'm at is less hard and fast.  I asked for a letter from a person I had never had any contact with, but had very favorably reviewed my book ms for a publisher.  After OKing it my chair, I asked the editor I had worked with to forward my request to the anonymous reviewer.  The reviewer was happy to divulge his identity and repeat the favorable comments in a letter to the tenure committee.
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skeptical
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« Reply #8 on: April 29, 2012, 6:26:06 PM »

One thing to keep in mind is not to give too long of a list. At my Uni, the chair has to make two lists: One, of names the candidate submitted and two, of those others have selected. If you give your chair a list of everyone in your particular sub-area, that may lead the chair to select names of those who are unlikely to be able to judge the quality of your work.
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flotsam
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« Reply #9 on: April 29, 2012, 8:59:41 PM »

Generally, what they're looking for is an "arm's-length."  That is, the reviewer shouldn't be your best friend, a collaborator or co-author, or someone from your dissertation committee.  But it doesn't have to be someone you've never met.  Bear in mind the purpose of this: The university wants someone who can fairly judge your work.  Obviously, that needs to be someone knowledgeable in your field, and in many fields that's going to have to be someone you have met at one point or another.  Don't go out of your way to find a complete stranger, therefore, but try to list someone who can be (and seem to others to be) objective in evaluating your work.
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pgher
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« Reply #10 on: April 29, 2012, 9:35:42 PM »

I have a similar problem (although I have another year to solve it).  I'm on the administrative board for the society for my subfield, which includes (either as officers or loose affiliates) basically ALL of the important senior faculty in the subfield.  So, I nominally have a conflict of interest with everyone who could write an appropriate letter.  My chair said, well, just being on the board with them doesn't mean they work with you, so I just need to stay away from the half-dozen that I actually work with.  My chair said he has had the same issue for promotion to full professor--one criterion is being engaged with the scholarly community, which essentially means creating a conflict of interest with everyone who could evaluate you.  My chair said what Shrek said--just define your relationship and let the admins decide.

I think also finding reviewers in closely related fields is appropriate.  That was another suggestion from my chair.  Fortunately, I have a mentor here who is in a similar-but-different field who can help me make suggestions.
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seniorscholar
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« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2012, 10:12:29 AM »

You need to figure out what level of not knowing these people is required at your institution.  At mine, for example, people you've been on a panel with or had a conference meal with are okay, but closer relationships are somewhere between frowned upon and unacceptable.

I got an excellent letter from someone I'd never met for my tenure portfolio last summer.  I gave the name to my dept. chair with the others, he sent out the standard email asking if the person would review it, and the person said yes.  I chose him because I'm in a small subfield and there are few people who work on related topics.

Ditto to both of these. After all, the person will be sent your work and asked to evaluate it. For many senior faculty, if the work sounds at all interesting this is a piece of "service to the profession" which is not too hard to do and is worth something in one's annual merit application, plus the fee paid by some departments to reviewers.

And remember, YOU don't find the outside reviewers or contact them in any way (whether you know them well or have never seen them) -- that would be inappropriate -- your department chair does that, in a letter that may also ask the proposed reviewer to explain the "extent of your previous acquaintance with the candidate." Such things as "was on a panel at a conference and went to lunch afterwards" and even "was one of the two readers for the book manuscript" are generally ok.
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aside
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« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2012, 2:00:03 PM »


**4)  Are the reviewer's evaluating based on their criteria for tenure, or based on my university's criteria  for tenure?   


That depends in large part upon your university's policy and how well that policy is communicated in the cover letter your administrator sends to the reviewer.  I've been sent a tenure file and the university's tenure criteria and have been asked to evaluate the file relative to the provided criteria.  On other occasions, I've been asked if the candidate would meet the criteria at my institution.  On still other occasions, I've been asked to evaluate the candidate's work and their standing in the field without a specific recommendation for or against tenure. 
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nocalprof
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Posts: 797


« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2012, 4:16:18 PM »

.....They can NOT be anyone I know.

You need to explicity find out exactly what this means.  At my institution, no co-authorship, no proposals co-written (successful or failed) sufficed.  All my letter writers knew me personally.  Wouldn't your administration want that?  Why would they want to tenure someone that is unknown by the top people in the field?

Quote

1)  How does one go about creating a list?  Should I ask the people I do know who they would suggest as being "reasonable" and not a "loose cannon?"

I sat down with my chair and came up with two lists - my list of five and the chair's list of five.  We sprinkled our assessments of the best ones on both lists (the dean is free to choose from either list, or from their own list).  In our case, the higher the rank and the more prestigious the institution, the better for me.  All the people on my list were full professors, all top tier R1's (schools that my institution will still be envying in thirty years).

Quote
2) Do the reviewers have to be in my sub-field?   Or can I select reviewers in my discipline but may not be familiar with my sub-field? 

I don't think it has to be in your sub-field.  I think the main criterion should be whether the reviewer could potentially review one of your publications or proposals.  That may or may not be in your sub-field.

Quote
3) I have read that I should have the majority of reviews be from "established white males?" Is this accurate?

Established? Yes.  (See earlier comment regarding rank of letter writers.)  White males?  What the #&@% is that supposed to mean?

Quote
**4)  Are the reviewer's evaluating based on their criteria for tenure, or based on my university's criteria  for tenure?   

This completely depends on what the cover letter from your dean says to the referees.  You should ask around to find out as much as you can about what the questions are.  Our dean told us basically what they ask referees, something along the lines of "Does this candidate have a nationally-recognized, independent research program?"

I *strongly* recommend you talk with a mentor at your institution who knows the local culture and local policies.  The answers to a lot of your questions depend on site-specific facts that we just don't know here on the fora.

Good luck!
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usukprof
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.


« Reply #14 on: May 08, 2012, 3:51:43 PM »

One thing to keep in mind is not to give too long of a list. At my Uni, the chair has to make two lists: One, of names the candidate submitted and two, of those others have selected. If you give your chair a list of everyone in your particular sub-area, that may lead the chair to select names of those who are unlikely to be able to judge the quality of your work.

Right, and I was advised to not put people on my list that my mentor knew I knew.  That is, they weren't going out of the way to find people I wouldn't want, and wanted me to put people on my list they weren't likely to think of.  But this only works if you know they will do this.
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