Monday, October 22, 2018

Mandatory Swastika Recommendations, Part 2

Last year, I wrote about a case in Massachusetts where a teacher was punished for withdrawing a letter of recommendation for a student who constructed a swastika in the school hallway. The school suspended the teacher, accusing her of "bullying"(!) the student. Fortunately, the teacher was unionized, and her union contested the sanction.

Today, I saw that an arbiter reversed the suspension and found almost all of the teacher's actions to be permissible. The one bit of bad news, though, is that the arbiter did find that the school could punish the teacher for following up with the colleges she had sent a letter of recommendation to, informing them of her reason for withdrawing the letter (that is, telling them of the swastika incident). Since the incident was the subject of disciplinary action by the school administration, the arbiter found that the school could legitimately require the teacher to not provide any details herself or, at most, refer those who ask to the administrators. However, the arbitrator nonetheless concluded that this relatively narrow breach did not warrant a suspension but, at most, a letter of reprimand.

I not wild about even that much of the disciplinary decision being upheld, though this is certainly a net-win. But this case had inspired me to add a proviso I make all students requesting a letter from me agree to, that they license me "to write a letter of recommendation ... (including any follow-up messages or other communications [I] deem[] necessary), using any information [I have] that [I] deem[] relevant."

Put another way, if I credibly hear that one of my students is putting up swastikas, I absolutely will rescind the letter and I absolutely will tell the recipient why I'm doing it.

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