First Draft of a Letter to a Faculty Member–any suggestions for revision?

November 10, 2008

Dear Professor Jerkface,


I’ve gone from being nervous, to concerned, to angry that you’ve repeatedly ignored my email requests for feedback on my dissertation chapters, the opportunity to meet about my progress, and, most recently, a letter of recommendation for a position at Awesome Job University.


It’s no secret that you’re not the speediest faculty member when it comes to advising your students (even your mentee-disciples), but there must some threshold of accountability to your community.  If you don’t want to deal with the tiresome demands of students, maybe you could move fully into what seems to be your preferred line of work, “public intellectual,” and quit accepting positions on dissertation committees and in academic service.  However, having done so, you have duties to fulfill and an academic example to model both to your fellow faculty members (who have to pick up your slack), and your students (who are at your mercy).


That said, I need to know if you will indeed be able and wiling to provide aforementioned letter of recommendation for me.  If not, I’ll wrestle with my impotent rage, but at least I’ll know where I stand with you.  Being repeatedly ignored is a sign of your antipathy—whether personal or professional—but I’d prefer clarification to vague unease.


Let me assure you that I have tried to ask of you only what I must; my committee chair (your mentor, as well as mine) has been more than helpful and kind in all of my years in this program, and even moreso as my dissertation has been growing and changing, and it is to him that I turn for advice.  I would not trouble you for something  I could get elsewhere.


And the letter than I’ve now repeatedly asked about is one of those things.  My application materials are due in less than a week, and should you not respond, you’re putting me (and whoever else I might ask to provide said letter) in a tight and awkward spot. 


If you truly feel incapable of recommending me as a scholar, I would prefer to know that, so that I can move on and find two things:  first, another recommender, and second,  a replacement committee member who feels that her/his efforts would not be wasted on grooming me further for the profession.


Issuing an ultimatum is probably a fruitless exercise, but I hope that this message will succeed where the others have failed and prompt a response—of any sort whatsoever—from you.


Very sincerely,





  1. I reeeeeally can’t see that letter resulting in a positive letter of recommendation. But perhaps I underestimate the east-coast mental toughness that this professor might harbor. He could see it as a love note for all I know.

  2. Was it the “Jerkface” part?

  3. I think the letter is perfect. Also, I have heard through the catty, backstabby academic grapevine that the person to which I think you are referring is habitually and permanently like this. Maybe you should stage a sit-in. Or chain yourself to his office door.

    Also: it was very good to see you at the conference. Stinky was overcome by New Edition’s Christmas awesomeness, by the way.

  4. Yeah, the offense is one of degree, not kind. But after a revised version of the above, I did finally get a response, and the letter has been sent (though heaven knows what it says).

    Good to see you, too, and thanks for letting me crash with you Thursday. I hope you enjoy New Edition throughout the upcoming holiday season; RB loved it enough that before I left for the conference, he transferred the tracks to mp3s so we can ALL sing along this Christmas. If you could record H lip-syncing any of the tracks and post it to your blog, I would be forever grateful.

  5. Having gone through this…until that recommendation is in your hands, flattery is your best bet with ornery professors. They want you to NEED them, it is all a big power trip and you can laugh your way out of there once you have what you need in your hands, but I think you have to suck it up.

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