It’s that time of year. People are considering job changes and everyone who moves from one tenured job to another needs external letters. In this game, the request for letters comes only after the department has made a hiring decision: the letters are for the an extra-departmental review at the college level. I am being asked for letters on a few weeks notice, just as I had to ask other people for them when I did my bit as chair. I am looking at several requests as I write this. Some of these are from obscure branch campuses I’ve never heard of that are asking for detailed analytic evaluations of the contributions and national influence of the candidates, for God’s sake. Others are for extremely senior people who hardly need me to buttress their claim to fame. I have three choices: spend significant time working up a good detailed letter being sure to explain why everybody is a star, write a superficial positive letter that is at risk of being coded as reserved (i.e. negative), especially for the non-stars, or decline to write and definitely be coded as negative, again, especially for the non-stars. This is idiocy. It is bad enough that we have to do this for promotion to tenure, but does anybody believe that the external letters provide one iota of information that could not be obtained from reading the cv and the person’s publications? The department wants to know whether the person is a lunatic, but that they find out from gossip or phone calls. I don’t mind altruism and doing things for the collective good and the welfare of other scholars, but I do resent wasting my time for the benefit of bureaucratic nonsense. Not only are they asking me to read their watch for them, they are asking me to write several pages of well-crafted prose about what it says and do it for free.