Tenured economist asks:
I was asked to write an external letter for a tenure case. Do you have any advice to share? We don’t use these in our tenure cases so I have never even seen an example! How long/detailed are they usually?
The following is based on external letters we’ve gotten in the tenure cases I’ve sat on so far. We’d love to hear from the Grumpy Nation for people with more extensive experience and with experience in different fields.
There’s a lot of variation in these letters even from economists.
Usually they’re 1-3 pages long (single spaced with extra spaces between paragraphs, 12 point font, TNR, etc. give or take). Here’s what I’ve seen generally:
You don’t have to give a recommendation yes/no if you don’t want to. If you do, it can either be based on, “They would get tenure at [my university]” or “They should get tenure at their university”
You start by saying if you’re aware of the person’s work if you are aware of it, and if so whether or not you know the person personally and in what context. If you’re not aware of the person’s work you can choose to say that or to not say that.
Then you talk about the different strands of literature and put them in context for the committee. Talk about their quality and how they fit into the broader literature.
If there’s other items they ask you to address like teaching or service, then address those as well. We specifically ask for it to be focused on research and fit within the broader community (so potentially service to the profession if they have any) because we’re an R1. SLACs, policy schools, and business schools might have different things they care about so if there’s something that the specific type of institution cares about you might address that. Ex. teaching, media visibility, etc. If there are potential things you might think would be concerning, like lack of single authored papers, you can talk about that as well and why that may or may not be a concern in this specific case.
That’s really about all there is to it. The hard part is reading through the articles and figuring out their worthiness, especially you don’t have a helpful overview letter written by the applicant that puts it into perspective for you.