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Rachel88

Threatening my letter of recommendation

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Ok, specifically sought out this site to get some answers. 

 

I'm an my final year of an MFA program. I've been teaching my own classes for two of those years. While in grad school, I've maintained good academic standing, have invented a completely new technique that changes my field, been internationally published (first grad in my department) and will be speaking at an international convention.

 

Anyway, We recently lost the head of the department and the individual responsible for the undergraduate program stepped up to fill the position. He treats our undergrads as if they are children, allowing them to put forth little effort with no consequences. Because of this, the grads are expected to pick the majority of the work maintaining the studios and facilitating activities for our guild. 

After losing my limmited studio time (for the umpteenth time) to making up work assigned to the undergrads, I ended up suggesting to that they step up to thier responsibilities in the program. 

 

One of them sent out an email to the entire department mocking me (we've had multiple complaints about this student in the past and issues with her disparaging the department on social media) . I forwarded it to our proffessors so they were aware of, what is essentially, bullying tactics.  I made the request that it remain anonymous and that I not be involved further.

 

So, the head of the department dealt with this publicly by announcing that I need to show more respect for the undergraduates. I was publiy punished for reporting behavior in confidentiality. 

The head of the department then went of to tell me that I shouldn't email about behavior I find concerning because it is "a record" and went on to threaten my letter of recommendation unless I "show respect" to this particular student, mentioning that he was the one who voted yay on my application 

 

I had worked in government before grad school and all of these actions raised a red flag in how it was handled. 

I'm beyond frustrated. I feel like I should address it with the drama, but I only have one semester to go.

 

Any suggestions?

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I'm not sure. So far, he has only been head of the department for 1 semester out 5. I have great recomendations from all of my proffesors on my thesis commitee in undergrad, all of whom are more established in the field than the professor in question. I will also have great recommendations from my thesis committee head, and former head of the department along with good recommendations from everyone else I work in my commitee. 

 

I also have a great recomendation from a goverment run art center after working as the museum preprator and serving on a planning commitee for city wide events. 

I'm worried about how much one negative letter of recommendation can have on my career 

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How can he give you a negative letter of recommendation if you don't include him? Do you need a letter from him for some reason? It sounds like you have plenty of options for recommendations, just cut this person out, and move on.

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14 minutes ago, Rachel88 said:

I'm worried about how much one negative letter of recommendation can have on my career 

Sounds like you'd never need to even ask this person for a letter. I wouldn't. So you just need to know that he won't actively seek to harm you by reaching out to people and bad-mouthing you behind your back. That would be an unlikely and extraordinary step for someone to take, so I don't think it's something to lose sleep over. But to be on the safe side I think it's probably best to stay the hell away from this person, so they can find someone else to get pissed at. It doesn't sound like there's any kind of long-standing grudge against you, so hopefully out of sight, out of mind. 

At the same time, you might take this as a lesson about how situations like this one can get out of hand. What the prof did is *not* okay, but it's a potential teachable moment: when you create a written record (email) and distribute it widely, people can use it not as you intended. Conversations are often better as a first step to solving disputes like this, especially when it's not clear to me that it's your place as a grad student to instruct undergrads on what they should or shouldn't do (unless you have some official capacity that allows you to do that). It's also unfortunately often the case that the power structure of workplaces (academia included) is such that you need to pick your battles wisely and sometimes doing a little extra work is better than engaging in a fight with a superior. When you choose to criticize how someone does their job, you can expect pushback, even if you're entirely correct, so you should always factor that into your plans. This is not criticism of what you did, just a suggestion for learning from it. You can choose to pursue this problematic culture in your department, but you should do it fully aware of your position in the pecking order and how much you opinion counts. If you aren't in an obvious position to bring about change, it's worth thinking about how you can still influence things in a positive way.

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I agree---it sounds like you have plenty of people who can write letters for you. Is there a "rule" that you must include your current dept head no matter what?

It sounds like your dept head handled this very poorly.

This might also be a difference in fields, but I also thought it was very unorthodox for a graduate student to chastise undergrads the way it sounded like you did. In my field/departments, the correct thing to do would have been to talk to the people in charge of the undergraduates. For example, if it's related to coursework, perhaps the instructor. If it was an undergrad in my research group, I would talk to our mutual advisor/PI. Some exceptions are when a grad student is actually directly put in charge of undergraduates (e.g. a team of undergrad TAs led by a grad TA, or a research project directly led by a graduate student).

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In our department, the graduate students are in charge of organizing undergraduates. Partially because of the way the program is instructed. We delegate jobs to ensure everything gets done. Our program is also a little different in that grads design and teach thier own courses and are part of staff and faculty. 

Either way, I asked that my concern be kept confidential and it was bought up publicly instead.  

Unfortunately, since he holds a position as head of the department, I feel that it would effect my job potential negatively.

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7 minutes ago, Rachel88 said:

Unfortunately, since he holds a position as head of the department, I feel that it would effect my job potential negatively.

But why? You have lots of other great options for letters, it sounds. How is he relevant? Department head is an administrative position. It doesn't magically make him know you better or have a more relevant opinion of you than the people who you work with directly. Either way, you get to choose who writes letters for you. There might be a red flag raised in an application if a student doesn't have their direct supervisor/advisor write for them, but no one expects that the department head is a necessary choice for a letter. (And even the aforementioned red flag can be explained away by other letters, if needed, which isn't the case here it seems to me.)

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Thanks for the responces.  I've worked hard to get where I am. having someone threaten my future careers options because of a report of bulying behavior made in confidentiality is, to put it mildly, both infuriating and bewildering. 

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6 minutes ago, Rachel88 said:

Thanks for the responces.  I've worked hard to get where I am. having someone threaten my future careers options because of a report of bulying behavior made in confidentiality is, to put it mildly, both infuriating and bewildering. 

Definitely. But in this particular case, I think your answer is to stay away from this person and not ask him for a letter. His impact on your career should be non-existent other than to scare you with (unacceptable!) threats. 

(To put it in perspective, occasionally we hear of cases like this (and worse) that involve a person's direct advisor making threats or actually harming someone's career, in which case it's much harder to get away from their negative influence. In that sense, you're pretty lucky.)

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Some things don't add up.

  • The OP has "worked in government" but is getting out foxed by an undergraduate.
  • The OP has great relationships with other professors yet reports that she received one "yay" vote on an application.
  • The OP has great relationships with others in her program yet comes here to get answers from complete strangers.
  • The OP has "maintained good academic standing, have invented a completely new technique that changes my field, been internationally published (first grad in my department) and will be speaking at an international convention" yet is worried about a letter of recommendation that she does not have to request.

 

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I'm not sure why you are victim blaming, Sigaba. 

1) if you've worked in government, you would understand that things are dealt with in a much more procedural manner. When faculty automatically takes the side of an undergraduate simply because they are undergrads, you get "out foxed". 

 

2) I said that the professor in question made my admittance procedure seem as if he convinced every other member of the panel that he was soley responsible for my acceptance into the program. I did not claim that I received a single "yay".

3) the program has had internal issues with faculty behaviour in the past with reports only resulting in conflict. My only other option is to go to the dean. I made the choice to ask qualified individuals thier opinions before proceeding. 

 

4) I guess for certain individuals to take my complaint seriously, I need to establish credibility. I would post a link to the article, but the way you are questioning my credibility make me wonder if you wouldn't use that information negatively. 

 

Honestly, your responce is both unessary and disrespectful. 

19 minutes ago, Sigaba said:

Some things don't add up.

  • The OP has "worked in government" but is getting out foxed by an undergraduate.
  • The OP has great relationships with other professors yet reports that she received one "yay" vote on an application.
  • The OP has great relationships with others in her program yet comes here to get answers from complete strangers.
  • The OP has "maintained good academic standing, have invented a completely new technique that changes my field, been internationally published (first grad in my department) and will be speaking at an international convention" yet is worried about a letter of recommendation that she does not have to request.

 

 

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55 minutes ago, Rachel88 said:

Your post

Pointing out inconsistencies in a post isn't "victim blaming," it is pointing out inconsistencies in a post. 

IMO, you are trying to have it both ways. You want readers to think that you're squared away and you want readers to think you're a victim of an undergraduate "bullying" you. You (again) point to your experience in government, your intimate knowledge of the dynamics in your department, and yet express continued surprise that the "individual responsible for the undergraduate program" sided with an undergraduate over a graduate student.

My reading of your posts is that you attempted to throw your weight around in the department and tell professors how things should be done, things went differently than you anticipated, you took umbrage, and now you're here.

My reading is that you've been told to drink a cup of STFU and to stay in your lane. My reading is that undergraduate tuition and fees are important to members of your department and they're willing to put up with behavior that you don't like. The way you have been told appears unprofessional, maybe actionable IRT your school's policy because of the violation of your request for confidence. Then again, I wonder about what information you're choosing not to disclose.

However, going from there to allegations that your careers are being threatened does not make sense to me. A professor has the discretion to write or not as he or she sees fit. One is not entitled to glowing letters of recommendation.

IRT your intent of asking "qualified individuals," you got good guidance--don't ask the acting chair for a letter of recommendation, you don't need it-. And then you argued with the posters who provided it.

Since you asked in your OP, here are some suggestions.

  • If you're going to present a biased account and selective of your experiences to strangers, don't take offense when strangers ask questions or point out inconsistencies.
    • If you're going to use a phrase like "step up" multiple times, then maybe think twice before painting yourself as a "victim."
  • Avoid the temptation of telling your bosses how to do their jobs unless you're absolutely certain your guidance is going to be well-received.
    • You said it yourself, the department is aware of this UG's behavior.
    • By you pointing it out in an email to your professors, you called them out for at least the second time this term.
    • (I am still not sure why you sent an email to multiple professors before talking personally to at least one of them, especially given your work "in government.")
  • Keep in mind always that money talks, even in the Ivory Tower.
  • Don't allow yourself to be trolled by undergraduates' email or posts on social media.

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Again, have the decency to thourghly read what was originally stated before giving your, obviously biased, opinion.

 

I've read through most of your other responses on this site and it appears you are only on here to troll. That being said, I am not going to wast my time defending my position or responding to your poorly contrived opinion

 

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2 hours ago, Rachel88 said:

I've read through most of your other responses on this site[....]

In one hour? Okay.

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I'm a grad student at a public university. As university employees our emails aren't truly "private" - if there was some kind of ethics investigation (for example) we could have our emails examined as evidence. So yeah, I would never assume an email I sent is "confidential".

 

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1 hour ago, St Andrews Lynx said:

I'm a grad student at a public university. As university employees our emails aren't truly "private" - if there was some kind of ethics investigation (for example) we could have our emails examined as evidence. So yeah, I would never assume an email I sent is "confidential".

And just because one asks to keep a matter confidential, I don't know that the request itself binds the recipient of the request.

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Yep, I'm pretty a fast reader, especially when content is simple. 

 

Anyway, issue was resolved in my favor with the professor in question receiving a reprimand and removal from my thesis committee. Thank you to those who contributed ~constructive~ criticism.  

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Wait, all of that got "handled" with an official reprimand in the 11 hours since you posted this?

Or did you not mention any of the fact that this was currently under investigation by someone outside your department in any of your posts for some other reason?

It's really hard to give people good advice when they leave important things out, like the fact that you'd already reported this issue to someone outside your department and they were investigating the issue.

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3 hours ago, St Andrews Lynx said:

I'm a grad student at a public university. As university employees our emails aren't truly "private" - if there was some kind of ethics investigation (for example) we could have our emails examined as evidence. So yeah, I would never assume an email I sent is "confidential".

When I was a grad student at a private university, the school also told us during orientation that we should expect no privacy with our .edu email accounts too. Use of the email account and all campus IT services is dependent on agreeing that the University could examine/inspect our usage, including our emails and internet traffic if they wanted to**. So it's not just limited to public universities. 

**Of course, in reality, there is far too much for anyone to be monitoring all of the traffic, but as you said, it could be dug up if an investigation requires it.

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None of this post even makes sense. Undergrad pisses you off, you tell them off, undergrad reports you for telling them off. So you forward the email of them reporting you to other professors to show them the student was mocking you (although you say they already knew about this student, so sounds redundant). Head of department basically says your action is disrespectful and warns you to not do it again (publicly). You make a post concerned they may write you a negative letter (which still doesn't matter even after they've been removed from your committee), and ask how to handle the situation. However, it appears you had already reported the situation to someone higher up making this entire thread redundant. 

 

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2 hours ago, TakeruK said:

**Of course, in reality, there is far too much for anyone to be monitoring all of the traffic, but as you said, it could be dug up if an investigation requires it.

I used to believe that. Now I pretend that it's still true.

http://tinyurl.com/yccs95x5

 

 

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