When a teacher or school counselor writes a letter of recommendation on behalf of a student, that teacher or counselor is vouching for that student — or not depending upon the content of the letter. The teacher is conveying what they know about the student’s character, intellectual curiosity, interests, and more. So when new information comes to light about a student after a teacher has already submitted the student’s college letter of recommendation (e.g, the student subsequently commits a crime), it might behoove that teacher to offer an update to colleges. After all, the teacher has written about a student to colleges based upon the set of information they knew at the time. But now if they know new information, information that could influence their admissions decisions at the colleges that are still determining if the student should or should not be offered admission, do they have an obligation to update these schools?
In a piece entitled “Recommendation Rescinded” up on “Inside Higher Ed,” Scott Jaschik writes about a teacher who has been suspended for updating colleges on a student for whom he wrote a college letter of recommendation. And why? Because that student apparently created a swastika out of tape on school grounds. When a Jewish student discovered the swastika, he chose to remove it but not before uttering an anti-Semitic slur directed at the young woman. All of this is certainly information we’d think a college would wish to know about a student being considered for admission.
But the teacher has since been suspended after the student’s parents complained to the school that she had no right to contact colleges and revoke her letter of recommendation. While it may have been a violation of school policy for the teacher to update colleges about disciplinary action (we’re not familiar with the high school’s individual policies with respect to discipline), sometimes a high school’s disciplinary procedures just don’t apply. And this certainly would be one such case. Every college this student applied to had the right to know of this student’s anti-Semitic actions. This teacher vouched for this student before learning of the hate in his heart. She put her name to that letter, her word. Shame on the school for suspending a teacher for refusing to recommend an anti-Semitic student — irrespective of the school’s rules. The colleges to which this student applied have a right to know this information and this teacher has every right to not recommend a student who has committed what sure sounds like a hate crime.