HIDDEN MESSAGES. My department is doing a search. I'm reading letters of recommendation. Two phrases perplex. One reads "would recommend to departments that value teaching and research." Is that a veiled way of saying "would recommend to all but the top X departments", where X has variously been twenty or fifteen or nine (??!?) or five. Do search committees in departments that fancy themselves in the top fifteen when they're realistically in the top forty disregard those applicants, or do they consider those applicants as realistic hires that will improve their standing? And what does an aging search committee member in a mid-major make of either phrase? That the candidate will work well with students who might not be as self-motivated as the ones at the "value research" programs? That the candidate has an outside chance of writing papers that will get into top journals? That the candidate will write large numbers of papers just good enough to get into archival journals? Such statements might be accurate appraisals for the benefit of those top departments, where they have many more dossiers to read than I do. I'm not sure what they do for me.

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