Annoying Summertime Pursuit Numero Uno: Writing Tenure Letters
| Nicolai Foss |
OK, it is June and high season for tenure letter requests. I have written tons of these letters within the last decade or so, and I confess that I find this activity increasingly annoying and the tenure letter institution increasingly hard to fathom. Deans will write me, saying that I have “been identified” (well, yes, in the sense that I was on someone’s shortlist, and you just picked me) as an “expert” (hmmm) in “X” (X may be strategy, organization theory, HRM, knowledge management, entrepreneurship — even organizational behavior, but not yet, alas, sociology), and I have “three weeks” to write up my letter (and I have nothing else to do in June?) for “Dr. Doe” (who didn’t bother to ask me whether I would write such a letter).
I once brought up the issue of compensation for at least one day of intense work effort with a dean, but that was not well received. However, at least for us Euro professors the “what’s in it for me” question is quite real. Euro schools typically don’t use the tenure letter institution (INSEAD and LBS do, but they are “Americanized” schools), and we get zero credit for this service. (Euro schools tend to pay for comparable services, BTW). Still, when I bring up these issues, righteous types will say things like “”Nicolai, citizenship isn’t tit-for-tat” or lecture me on “generalized reciprocity.” However, the argument that ultimately made me continue writing these letters, rather than turning requests down, was that apparently people are harmed by someone’s refusal to write the letter.
So, I do it. But I reserve the right to bitch and whine. And speculate on the rationale of this institution. What is really its purpose? Anyone can produce a list of half a dozen people (close colleagues, former advisors, friends …) and get them to write nice letters. What kind of objective assessment is produced by some dean picking people from such a list? Is this empty ritual? Or, is there some underlying efficiency rationale?
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