Sunday, January 15, 2012

Outsourcing the submssion of recommendation letters: an IT innovation that I hate

Please understand that I favor the submission of recommendations on line. It saves time and, for faculty members working overseas (assuming they have reliable internet service) can simplify the submission process.

What I hate is the arrogance of the firms to which this process has been outsourced. Like many IT “customer service” organizations they have designed their process to mesh with their needs (and to some degree the needs of their clients). The opacity and complexity of one set of instructions was so impenetrable that after completing the process, I wrote to a senior administrator of the unit to whom I was submitting a recommendation. He was kind enough to respond and was candid: “the system is designed to meet the needs of the clients (i.e. the schools receiving recommendations) not those submitting them.”

The latest indignity, which I encountered in writing a recommendation this evening, was a lengthy “license agreement” type disclaimer, comprising several paragraphs of legalese. License agreements in general have completely perverted the concept of a contract as an agreement between two more or less equal consenting parties. This “agreement” informed me than unless I agreed to sign, my recommendation would not be considered. Given a commitment to support my students applications, what recourse did I have?

I still consider the task of writing recommendation letters to be one of the most rewarding obligations of faculty members. As an IT literate faculty member, who equips himself with the latest high-end MacBook Pro laptop, this newly automated process poses few – indeed no – terrors. It is only the user-unfriendliness of the online recommendation software packages, that would seem to reflect arrogance and insensitivity on the part of the firms that have created them, that I hate.

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