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Lynne Tirrell

This is much more thoughtful than the DN post that you're addressing, but I still have issues with the cynicism of the DN post and some residual bits here in yours. You are really mainly talking about people in departments with PhD programs. Having been in an undergrad-only institution for a long time, my perspective is different. Letters not marked by the actual area-based expertise of the writer, using that expertise to evaluate the work carefully, just don't carry much weight. Candidates should use careful judgment about who writes for them. My letters, for what they're worth, are sincere, contra the above. Perhaps naïveté, but actually about ethics: writing a letter is saying "I stand behind this person, because I respect them in the ways I outline here." So respect is key. Maybe no one reading such letters cares about the content (as the DN post writer shows no care) but I do, and my colleagues at UMB did too. I've recently moved, but I presume the same will hold more widely. I accept your general point about networking being status-enhancing, and letters being tied to that, but there is so much more going on. Attacking the letter-writing-practice is a mistake. Improving it is a good idea.

Eric Schliesser

Thank you for your response. I am, however, a but surprised by several elements in it. First. my post is explicitly intended to cover letter writers who may be outside doctoral programs. (These are meant to fall under ii-iv above.) Second, my explicit position is that expertise is a necessary condition on being asked to be a letter writer, but not sufficient. If it were, we would see a lot more junior letter writers (often the most expert). Third, I agree both that a letter is a way to convey one stands behind a particular person and that the content is key--this is why letters involve such huge opportunity costs. And, of course, I did not mean to be exhaustive.

Alan  White

But decorum and courtesy demand acknowledgements too--as with your ++ footnote above. Clearly that is part of the norms of the profession and our place(s) in it. And our profession would be impoverished should such social forms of acknowledgement go the way of the dodo. However, a natural by-product is the very kind of "credit economy" explained here (nice term--though perhaps I should decline credit for crediting that--but is that even possible?). Is there any reform needed for doing such common favors that would benefit philosophy? And I'd also point out that in these days of Trump, an exalted sexual harasser and worse, while we may need to micromanage our own peccadilloes and motes in our eyes, society at large has beams and beams in their sockets we desperately need to chain-saw through. BTW I am a nobody in the profession, but I've written lots of colleague recs and external reviews of promotions and grants, and even for some figures that readers of your blog would easily recognize. We're not as harshly stratified by the credit economy as some might think.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.


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