Guidelines for Writing Colleague Letters in Reviews

Introduction

Tenured members of departments and programs play a critically important role in reviews: writing letters that speak to the candidate’s teaching, scholarship, and service.  This document is intended to supplement the Handbook’s procedures by providing guidance for letter-writing that will help tenured colleagues write informative letters that assist the members of the COR in arriving at their final recommendations.

Handbook language on writing letters

vi. Tenured Department Faculty Members/Department Faculty Members Who Hold the Rank of Professor

(a) To submit a letter of recommendation, when requested, to the Promotions/Reappointments Committee, with a copy to the department chair, that speaks to those aspects of a candidate's work with which he or she is familiar. Tenured faculty are expected to provide a letter upon request of the Committee, whether on academic leave or not.

(b) Upon the invitation of a candidate, to observe a class or classes and to meet with the candidate to discuss his or her performance in the class, with suggestions for possible improvement. Such meetings will be held before the end of the term during which the visits take place.

Best practices

  • First and foremost, evaluators must adhere to all applicable Handbook procedures.
  • Faculty writing letters should review the criteria for evaluating teaching, scholarship, and service prior to writing a letter.  The relevant Handbook sections include:
  • Faculty writing letters should review the standards for the particular review prior to writing a letter.  These are reproduced below.
    • First Review: The first review examines a faculty member's performance for evidence of accomplishment in teaching, of scholarly or creative activity, and of promise of outstanding teaching and scholarly or artistic achievement of significant quality. The evaluation of scholarship includes the assessment of the candidate, members of the candidate's department, and other faculty colleagues. The composition and long-term needs of the department and the faculty are also considered in this review. (http://www.middlebury.edu/about/handbook/ug-college-policies/faculty/faculty_rules#firstr )
    • Tenure: The review for tenure examines a faculty member for evidence of exceptional quality in teaching, and of significant scholarship or artistic achievement recognized as such by scholars and artists beyond Middlebury College. The evaluation of scholarship includes the assessment by the candidate, members of the candidate's department, members of the candidate's program (when relevant), other faculty colleagues, and appropriate professionals in the field outside Middlebury. Beyond teaching and scholarship, the service roles played by the individual faculty member will be examined.

      The long-term institutional commitment to an individual's career that is made with the granting of tenure comes with the expectation of a demonstrable reciprocal commitment on the part of the faculty member to the departmental and College curricula and to the broader life of the institution.
    • Promotion: This review, which normally takes place no earlier than the fifth and no later than the tenth year (eighth year for faculty who were awarded tenure prior to 2011) following appointment to tenure, considers whether a candidate should be promoted to full professor and looks at continued excellence in teaching, achievement in scholarship, and service to the institution.
  • Each evaluator should arrive at their own conclusion as to the individual’s candidacy.  The department letter will reflect the collective sense of the department, but each tenured colleague’s letter should reflect their independent judgment.
  • Letters should arrive at a clear recommendation about reappointment or promotion, and the contents of the letter should provide evidence/observations that support the recommendation provided. 
  • Letters should speak only to aspects of the candidate’s work that are relevant to the review criteria. 
  • Personal issues such as family or health issues must not be considered or discussed when making recommendations about reappointment or promotion.
  • Personal characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or any other characteristic identified in Middlebury’s Non-discrimination statement (http://www.middlebury.edu/about/handbook/policies-for-all/non-discrim-policies/anti-harassment-discrimin) must not be considered or discussed when making recommendations about reappointment or promotion.  
  • Evaluators should review carefully all materials that the candidate makes available, and letters should clearly state the basis on which the writer is making their judgment (e.g., the specific materials that were considered, course visits that were undertaken).
  • Anecdotal information (e.g., comments from students overheard in the hallway, portions of a class that were overheard from the letter writer’s office) should not be used as the basis for a review letter.
  • In cases where a candidate has a choice in which materials to provide, evaluators should avoid making judgments about a candidate’s particular choices.  For example, if a candidate chooses not to share course response forms with senior colleagues, it would be inappropriate for a letter writer to draw inferences about teaching based on the candidate’s decision not to share CRFs.  Similarly, if a candidate chooses not to invite all tenured colleagues to visit a class, it would be in appropriate for an evaluator to draw inferences about the quality of teaching from the absence of an invitation to visit a class.
  • The standards for tenure or promotion are the same for all candidates, irrespective of whether they received extensions on their tenure clock (as is automatically the case for a parental leave, for example) or (as is the case sometimes when a person is hired with extensive teaching experience) are on an accelerated tenure clock.
  • All letters and materials pertaining to a review should be kept confidential.  Individual should avoid sharing their letters or individual recommendations with candidates under review. 

 

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