professor lies about imminent axing to get good recommendations -- what would you do?

To answer the question in the title, my husband isn’t planning to do anything. But I told him I was going to start a thread about this just because it seems so audacious. He is in community college, about to transfer to a 4-year school. One of his professors told the class the other day that this would be her last class at the school after 18 years. She was very sorry to be leaving. She just got her notice of termination (holds up a brown folder), because, as she explained, the dean is very conservative and doesn’t like her (she’s an outspoken lefty); she is a part-time teacher who also practices in her field, and the faculty is biased against practitioners, and biased toward full-time academics; and the community college is making cuts, etc. etc., so they got rid of her. After this speech, she asks the students to write letters to the dean and one other faculty member. She expressly says that the letters should include the following: that she is a very good teacher; that the students appreciate her real-world experience; and that the students wish there was a higher-level course offered in the same subject so that they could also take that. She also said NOT to mention in the letter that they knew she was leaving. My husband did write the two letters, but he honestly did like the class, was sorry she would not be back, and wanted to support her.

I thought it was strange that she would be so specific about what the letter should say. It’s not uncommon, really, to ask for a letter of recommendation in various contexts – but IME you ask people who you believe will speak well of you. You don’t tell them *what *to say. I also thought it strange that she would say, “Don’t mention you know I’m leaving.” If she wasn’t supposed to disclose that information yet, wasn’t it a little unwise/strange to tell a whole class? Anyway, tonight my husband talked to a classmate whose friend had the same professor a couple semesters ago, and guess what? They got the same speech. The friend also said, “Yeah she does it every semester to get good recommendation letters.” Wow. The sheer audacity. Also, doesn’t it seem a little risky? I’m surprised she hasn’t been found out by now. I mean, lying to get good recommendation letters? Rather low. Would you do anything about it? Isn’t that a crazy thing for a professor to do? Repeatedly?

Yep pretty crazy. I’d take some pleasure in being the one to call her on it.

Community colleges have genuine academic professors who research, publish or perish? Who would have thunk it.

Assuming the facts as related third hand are correct, this is especially sleazy. I wonder what subject she teaches and practices in the field. Anyone? Bueller?

If he hasn’t written the letter yet, I’d tell him to go ahead and write a nice letter, praising her for all her good qualities, and then mentioning that he can’t believe that they’re letting her go, and that she asked her whole class to write this letter, and not mention that she’s being let go. If she’s going to pull this sort of shit on a regular basis, it should come back and bite her in the ass. Hard.

If some or all of the class could manage to go to the dean, and express their sorrow about her being terminated, that would be even better.

Bad/dishonest behavior should not be rewarded.

He already submitted the letters. I just found out she asked the students to mail them or give them to her directly. That way she can read them and discard the ones she doesn’t like…wow again. Maybe he should write follow-up letters and send them to the actual recipients (after he gets his grade, of course). Also, just for accuracy’s sake, I found out that the dean isn’t necessarily politically conservative – I misunderstood when my husband told me that part – she just said something like, “He’s conservative and proper so be sure to write a formal letter.” It’s true, that behavior should not be rewarded.

What field is the course in? Any chance this is some kind of ongoing psychology experiment or research for a book or something? Otherwise, wow.

I like the idea of follow-up letters to the recipients.

If the other student’s information is accurate, this is wildly unethical on the professor’s part, and she should be called on it. (That said, it is possible that the professor’s job really has been under threat more than once, and your husband’s friend is exaggerating when he says she does this “every semester.”)

I like the idea of sending a follow-up letter directly to the Dean.

Psych grad student here, and no, the former students would have been debriefed and told that it was an experiment after submitting their letters. She’s a crackpot.


I wouldn’t be surprised if the dean/administration already know about this professor’s shenanigans (are they called “professors” at a community college?), and lets her continue teaching there because she’s a good teacher or because he can’t find anyone better to teach the class, but knows better than to trust any such recommendation letters he gets about her. But if he doesn’t know, he certainly should be informed.

They’re called ‘instructors’ at our CC.

Besides the obvious dishonesty about this being her last semester, I have a problem with her asking students to write recommendation letters in the first place. Shouldn’t that kind of thing be spontaneous?

If she’s a member of the APA, she should be reported. Section 5 of the ethics code prohibits in-person solicitation of testimonials from persons over whom you have undue influence.

It’s not a psychology class. My husband doesn’t want me to specify the subject matter/discipline, which is why I haven’t. And whoops, I don’t know if they’re actually called “professors” – was just writing quickly last night when I posted.

I thought of this too and hope this is the explanation…that she did this once before when her job was also in danger. Still, inexcusable.

With all due respect your described scenario sounds flaky. I can’t recall any community college I’ve ever heard of where they teachers were primarily non-practicing academics emphasizing theory over practice and biased against practicing teachers. In fact it’s 180 degrees off of what most community colleges are all about, so either this is some really special community college or the vignette you describe is being completely made up.

Was she getting the letters before or after she submitted grades for the class? Does this school have a teacher rating program set up? That might be a lovely place to jot down a comment about the request, and it would be interesting if a teacher supposedly gets a large number of nice letters from the class while getting an awful score on the feedback.

It is extremely unprofessional to say the least. I have had one experience with this sort of thing and it was outrageous. I will tell the story but leave out names, places, etc. although the person is deceased and can no longer care (but he has a daughter who threatened to sue me for telling the story elsewhere).

Dr. X was an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Y for three years. During his last year, at least, he taught the course jocularly called “math for poets”. (I don’t mean to put poets down; that is what we called it.) Rather than make any attempt to teach whatever was in that course, he told jokes, generally wasted time and gave all A’s and B’s. A year earlier, I was taking a graduate course from him and he came in with a book on the subject the first day, sat down and started reading it. A delegation of students came to him and we said we were all going to drop the course unless he allowed us to give all the lectures. “Fine”, he said and that’s how it went. There is more about that course, but I will leave it to the end.

When he got his notice of non-renewal, he immediately complained to the students in the elementary course and got them to start a letter-writing campaign to the student newspaper. The department was embarrassed by all the negative publicity. A sabbatical visitor and former student at UY (and a real operator who hired me as chair of his won school) arranged for him to be offerred an associate professorship at University Z. I don’t know how he did this and what he against UZ, but that is what heppened. Three years later UZ asked him to find the guy a full professorship somewhere else and so he went off to UW where he finished his career.

While I was in the aforementioned course, I proved something that seemed interesting and Prof A immediately said I should write a paper on it. At the advice of my thesis advisor, I declined. A month later I received a rejection notice from a journal. Prof. A had written up my proof, signed my name to it and submitted it to the journal. I went to see him and he tried to convince me to try elsewhere. In support whereof he pulled out a reprint of his own that was, even to my graduate student eyes, utterly triviality. I stuck to my guns and forgot about it. Ten years later, I was leafing through a publication called Current Contents and discovered that Prof. A had published the result under his name. Oh well.

Knowing he was dead, I wrote up the story on another site and got an outraged letter from his daughter who asserted that he had left UX because the math department was so shoddy. Just for the record, it was and is one of the top twenty though probably not in the top ten.

Prof. A also distinguished himself by proposing that we destroy the moon using thermonuclear explosions in order the produce a ring that would give light through the night. That is a perfect illustration of the sophistication of his thinking.

The “Professor’s” behavior is egregious, to say the least. She

[li]lied to her students[/li][li]in multiple years[/li][li]in order to “request” positive recommendation letters [/li][li]to be delivered to her [/li][li]before final grades are assigned.[/li][/ol]
Any respectable school would terminate her for such behavior. Students often feel they are powerless and never think to challenge their Professors. Generally, deference is a good strategy, but this is not such a situation.

If any of the students recorded the lecture, your husband should consider getting a copy. Even if there is no recording, he should make an appointment with the Dean (or whatever functionary meets with students) and inquire about the situation. Simply say that the situation seemed odd, and he was wondering if it was normal and acceptable for a “Professor” to behave this way? If the school cares, they will take it from there.

He should wait until his final grade has been posted, though.

Yes, it was all before grades. They haven’t even taken their final yet. Good to get the feedback, thanks. Now I kind of hope he does something about it. Interesting – that would be great if someone had recorded it. I have no idea.

With all due respect, astro, the part that sounds made up to you came from her (as I thought was clear, maybe not) and we’re pretty sure that she makes stuff up, so yeah.