Saturday, November 24, 2007

Letter to a Harvard Reference

Dear Professor . . . :

I have not communicated about this until the recruiting effort in connection with [Doe] was completed because I did not want to interfere in the process. What follows is an effort to transcribe a telephone interview with you. The comments are what one expects these days except for the claim of 28 call backs within 3 days. This was evidently news to [Doe] and she corrected the error. The 28 interview claim became a selling point here by both the hiring committee and, evidently, the Dean. There are many explanations for such a statement. Most likely someone here misunderstood your comment in his or her effort to embellish the record. Or, perhaps, call backs got confused with interviews at the hiring convention. Another possibility is that you did not have the facts correct but shot from the hip nonetheless.

It is extraordinarily difficult for productive and deserving students with non elite degrees to find jobs in legal education. The bias is overwhelming and unjustified by any measure of teaching or scholarship success. In fact, schools at the rank of my schools have an abundance of elitist underachievers whose references were as enthusiastic as you were only without the possible misstatement. (Again my assumption is that the error was at our end.)

If the error was at your end, it is my sincere wish that in the future you will give some thought to the candidates who do not have an elitist connetion but are just as talented as students who do. There will be no equal opportunity for those students but it need not be made even less equal by the use of incorrect appeals to market demand as an indicator of potential and quality.

The note provided to our faculty is as follows: ". . . . (Harvard Law School): "I spoke with Professor . . . . at Harvard about [Doe].
Professor . . . was very effusive in her praise of [Doe].. She described her as “terrific,” “really
strong,” “smart and interesting.” She believed we were right to rank her highly as a candidate
and noted that [Doe] had been offered 28 callbacks within three days of the hiring conference
[actually the number is more like 10](this was inserted by the Committee after the interview although the actual number remains unclear). She really became aware of [Doe]’s potential as a scholar
when she supervised her third-year paper. . . . Professor . . .
stated that the paper was extraordinary. [Doe] did lots of leg work to find the cases she reviewed
as well as the factual setting for the cases, and “then she wrote this enormous paper.” . . .
was so impressed she asked [Doe] to present the paper to her . . . course,
something she never does. She gave [Doe] an A+ on the paper, only the second time she has given
such a high grade in 15 years of teaching. Professor . . . said that there are many intelligent
and highly motivated students at Harvard, but even by Harvard standards [Doe] “went above and
beyond what students usually do.” Professor . . . believes [Doe] will be a solid teacher and scholar."

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