Monday, October 5, 2009

A question of ethics. Or politics.

I'd like to apply for this fellowship, which would provide funds and a humanities center community to support the completion of my book. Not surprisingly, the application asks for letters of recommendation from scholars in the applicant's field, scholars who know something about the project and can speak to its merits.

I have a couple of scholars in mind, folks I know who would--I think--be willing to help out. (GOOD GRIEF but I do hate asking folks for letters!)

There's one particular scholar I'd love to ask. S/he's a big shot in my field, wildly influential. But we've never met, at least not formally. I happen to know that this scholar served as an outsider reviewer on my tenure file. And I happen to know that s/he wrote an enthusiastically and excitedly positive review of my file, praising sections from my book project as making significant contributions to the field. Obviously, I'd love to have this person write on behalf of me and my project in this application.

But here's the tricky part: the tenure-review process at my institution is supposed to be confidential. I'm not supposed to know that this person has responded so positively and so particularly to my project.


The ethics question: Can I ask hir?

The politics question: If yes, how?


squadratomagico said...

I think you can and certainly should.
First of all, the "blind review" deal for tenure cases is known to be an open secret at most institutions. I suppose there may be cases where the tenuree cannot figure it out, but most people I know are aware of the identities of their reviewers. So, it likely won't be a big surprise to her.
Second, since she must be in a field close to or identical with yours, you simply could frame your request in that way. Mention that you've regarded her work as a touchstone and go from there. She may be able to read between the lines, and figure out that you also know about her status as a tenure reviewer, but you need not mention it explicitly.
I know it sucks to ask for letters -- I hate it too! -- but it would be foolish not to take advantage of her enthusiasm for your work, particularly if she is well known in your field. She likely will be happy to assist you.

Lisa B. said...

I agree with squadrotomagico above, both in terms of the "may I" and the "how" questions. Do it!

Fie upon this quiet life! said...

Wait, wait, wait... asking for letters of recommendation doesn't end with tenure? Swoon.

Renaissance Girl said...

Fie-- If by swoon you mean vomit, then we're on the same page.