Sunday, December 20, 2009

More on Letters of Recommendation and Lying

I've been busy this month with writing letters of recommendation for my students - more than I've ever written before, by a long shot. 

I just submitted one letter using an online form that asked me to rank this student.  I was given four choices for the ranking:
[ ] Best student this year
[ ] Best student in five years
[ ] Not applicable
[ ] Best student in [ ] years

I guess this means that if my student is anything less than "best student in X years" then I'm supposed to say that her/his ranking is "not applicable."  This is the ranking equivalent of fast food drink sizes: do you want big, really big, or enormous?  Is there something wrong with small?  More to the point, is there something wrong with simply having been a good student, one who will flourish in grad school?  How am I supposed to compare my students in this way?  And isn't this inviting me to either lie by making them all "best in show" or damn my student by failing to praise him/her?


  1. It almost sounds as if it is a joke- I would presume that graduate schools are use to hearing the glorious wonders of every student who applies, and so they decided to get a little sarcastic with the questionnaire.

  2. This reminds me of the long-running Stephen Colbert bit throughout the Bush administration, where he'd ask various liberal guests the question "George W. Bush: Great President, or The Greatest President?"