Letters of Rec and Blasts from the Past

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I've just received an automated request for a letter of recommendation, sent on behalf of a student I taught 4 years ago.  I wrote a letter for this student back then, but have heard nothing from him since then.  Now...I'm not sure what to do.  I can't believe that a letter saying, "I taught So-and-So in 2009" will hold much water, and because our university e-mail accounts are terminated 2 years after someone graduates I have no way to get in touch with this student to raise the issue directly. 

What do others think?  Would you just upload the letter and let the chips fall as they may?

Shouldn't the student really have asked you before putting your name on the application?

Quote from: frogfactory on February 12, 2013,  1:21:45 pm

Shouldn't the student really have asked you before putting your name on the application?

Ideally, yes.  But he didn't.  Hence, my debating whether I have a responsibility to upload a letter or not.

I would just ignore the request since the student didn't even have the decency to request one.  I had one student this past semester who told me his LOR was due this coming July.  Then, he emailed me a few days before Feb. 1 to say he wanted his letter submitted by Feb. 1.  I didn't even care to submit one.  You can't tell me the day before that you now wanted it in by a different date.  I'm just gonna stick to the July deadline request.

I'd ask the student to send me a copy of some work, and say, "If you can't, I can still write the recommendation, but it will necessarily be vaguer."  Then I'd look up the student's grades and write a recommendation along the lines of, "Jim Smith took 'Advanced Basketweaving' from me in 2008.  This is a senior-level class with a challenging workload of five papers and two exams.  Jim earned an A- on all of the papers and a B+ and an A- on the exams.  Thus he is a capable student but not at the top of the class, as six students out of 35 did achieve all A's.  His grade for participation was B, which is normally accorded to the more quiet of the students or those who have missed a number of classes."  Or whatever.

Whether or not you write the recommendation, do let the student know.  Not writing it but failing to say that you've chosen not to would not be a professional choice, in my opinion.  It's easy enough to say, "I'm sorry but the class was too long ago and I can't provide sufficient detail to write you a suitable recommendation."  Hit Send and you're done.


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