Saturday, November 17, 2012
Almost all law schools solicit outside reviewers to evaluate the scholarly work of faculty members up for promotion or tenure or sometimes even for retention. A recent article in the Chronicle of Education questions the value of these letters. It notes that almost all the letters are positive, even effusive. I particularly liked this paragraph:
And they write so well and so cogently. Today I have read the expressions "highly commendable," "groundbreaking," "impeccably rigorous," "carefully designed," and "recognized nationally"—all phrases I wish I could think of when I am the writer. Instead, I come up with "doing good work," "interesting," and "innovative." At least I didn't say "cool."
I usually write a couple of these letters each year and am guilty of using these terms. I want to be honest. Yet, I am hesitant to be overly critical and possible help destroy someone’s career.
Not all letters are effusive. Over the year I have seen younger colleagues having to dispute letters written by cranky or even ignorant outside reviewers. Sometimes “inside” reviewers also can be unfair.
My solution: Hire only people whom you think will succeed and mentor then so that they do succeed. As a result, you will encounter fewer difficult decisions down the road. Your knowledge of your candidate will determine how you evaluate the reviews.