We've commented before on letters of recommendation, and the special code they're written in, which is related to the more general probelm of "recommendation inflation" which has become rampant in recent years. But this report, from a philosopher at a top department, is very worrisome indeed:
I am concerned about a recent trend in departments attempting to place job candidates. After the job candidate assembles his or her dossier, the placement director looks over the letters of the candidate to get a sense of how the candidate will look on the market. Sometimes, after this review, the placement director will contact a letter-writer to ask him or her to consider revising the letter. Officially, this sort of request is supposed to target unintended infelicities in the letters ("you'll be lucky if you can get him to work for you" or "this research fills a needed gap in the literature," etc.) But it seems to be more common lately for placement directors to ask for changes that alter the letter in order to improve the evaluation of the candidate, usually by asking letter writers to remove salient information such as explicit rankings or comparisons when the candidate is ranked below others.
Given that we found previously that those who have to read these letters value such comparisons, this seems a very unfortunate trend, if that is what it is. What do readers think? Anonymous posts are acceptable on this thread, though please include a valid e-mail address, which will not appear.