Why Not Every Student (or Prof) Deserves a Letter of Recommendation

Jackie Jones is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Multimedia Journalism at Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism. In her essay for the Morgan Global Journalism Review, Jones tackles the subject of letters of recommendation. She writes, “My decision about whether to write a recommendation is also guided by the four principles of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, Be Accountable and Transparent.” In addition, Jones discusses why not all students who ask should be given letters of recommendation.

I am very particular about writing letters of recommendation. I must know the student and his/her performance well and I will not write letters for students whose performance and reputations are wanting.  I am polite, but I don’t hold back and will explain why I am refusing to submit a recommendation.

I once warned a student even before he asked not to approach me because I could not in good conscience say anything positive on his behalf.

This doesn’t happen only with journalism students. Get together with a bunch of professors from a wide variety of disciplines and the war stories flow like whisky at an open bar. Faculty can’t tell whether it’s a sense of entitlement, status-seeking or just plain cluelessness on the part of students.


Jones’s comprehensive list of tips, aimed at students, are applicable to anyone—faculty included—who seek letters of recommendation.

AdjunctNation Freeway Flyer blogger Jenny Ortiz writes that adjuncts who write letters of recommendation can face open discrimination. Ortiz writes in her blog entry When Letters of Recommendation Written by Freeway Flyers Are Discounted: 

Letters of recommendation aren’t things I write on the fly (Freeway humor!); I took my time and showcased the student’s talents. I also explained my qualifications in order to show why my opinion on the matter could be trusted. It was a great letter, if I do say so myself. However, a few days after I sent it to the people in charge of the Writing Center (my former bosses), the student was to solicit a recommendation from a full-time writing professor.

Ortiz goes on to ask: “So, how do we change this perspective? It’s a well known that at most institutions, the faculty students interact with the most are adjuncts and a high percentage are Freeway Flyers.”

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