Truthful Recommendation Letter

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baphd1996:
I've got to disagree here.  It would be nice to get letters that give a proper evaluation of a prospective student's chances of success in a program, but there can be legal issues.  Maybe it depends on your location, but there have been several lawsuits involving negative recommendation letters.  Even if the writer is completely truthful and can back up every word, there can be a lawsuit.  Even if the writer wins the case, there is a cost to defend it.  I can't afford to defend myself against a lawsuit.  I'd just as soon say no.

Quote from: copper on January 28, 2013, 12:01:51 AM

The consensus on that other thread is flat-out wrong.  It is born out of some combination of cowardice, misguided loyalty to students, and a lack of respect for one's professional colleagues (the letter's recipients).  Recommendation letters are recommendations as to what action the recipient of the letter should take.  Write the letter that you would want to receive if you were administering the program; the one that would provide you with the perspective you need to make the best decision for the program you're trying to administer.

As long as what you say is truthful, there is no legal issue.  But that doesn't mean that a student who has not waived his or her right to see the letter can't create a legal hassle for you.  Thus, refuse letters where those rights have not been waived.

--Cu

literarylioness13:
Quote

The general consensus seems to be "don't write a negative letter." You can mention limitations, but don't agree to write if your overall judgment about the student is negative.

FWIW, I believe the context of the recommendation is important. In the past, I've gladly served as a reference in the past for "C" students who just needed someone to vouch that they were a responsible adult (for example, a reference form for summer camp position or for study abroad opportunities). I would not, however, agree to write a letter recommending that same "C" student to a top-tier PhD program.

I've only been asked by students who have gotten good grades in my classes to give recommendation letters. If a less than great student asked me for a letter, I would politely decline.

Since you are an adviser, I'm surprised the students ask. You can always decline just on that alone.

There are legal ramifications to writing negative letters in my state.

coldandcallous:
Quote from: baphd1996 on January 28, 2013, 12:44:51 PM

I've got to disagree here.  It would be nice to get letters that give a proper evaluation of a prospective student's chances of success in a program, but there can be legal issues.  Maybe it depends on your location, but there have been several lawsuits involving negative recommendation letters.  Even if the writer is completely truthful and can back up every word, there can be a lawsuit.  Even if the writer wins the case, there is a cost to defend it.  I can't afford to defend myself against a lawsuit.  I'd just as soon say no.



This (lawsuits/threat of lawsuit) is one reason why a lot of businesses no longer allow managers to write letters of recommendation.

While copper is correct that one's opinion < > libel, as badphd points out, a number of students have brought cases for bad letters (and waiving a right to read is going to be little protection for a student who is intent on suing).

A number of colleges and universities have offered recommendations to reduce liability when writing LORs (Google: lawsuit, student letter of recommendation).

I guess I usually take the cowards way out. If I can't write an overall positive letter, I encourage the student to find another letter writer. I do try to give my honest opinion about the student's strengths and weaknesses, though.

nezahualcoyotl:
"...they'll have me whipped for speaking true, thou'lt
have me whipped for lying; and sometimes I am
whipped for holding my peace."

If you find yourself in this sort of dilemma, the non-recommendation recommendation is probably the best option, if you feel you cannot just decline. I wouldn't have so much faith as Cu seems to have in that it'll all be fine provided you're truthful, though I'm not qualified to judge on the effectiveness of waivers. Still, I think it's preferable to just decline.

new_bus_prof:
This is the most negative letter I've ever received about a student.
"As the advisor to student in school program, please feel free to call me at (XXX) XXX - XXXX."

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