+2 votes
asked ago in General Economics Questions by (140 points)
If one is working at a US research university, is it advisable to ask for tenure letter writers that are based abroad, for example in Asia, Europe or Australia? Would university committees and Deans discount letters from full professors who are extremely renowned in one's field but are based in less known, foreign universities?

3 Answers

+5 votes
answered ago by (270 points)
The stature of your letter writers does matter. If the person you are thinking of is broadly recognized, then they should be good. But it is true that being at a less known institution abroad will tend to make them lower in stature in your tenure committee's eyes. You may also have the ability to explain why you think the person is a good choice for each person to l you nominate, so hopefully you can do some convincing there.

If you have a senior colleague who is willing to let you bounce names of him or her, that could help a lot.
+2 votes
answered ago by (6.9k points)
Tenure letters are meant to inform and persuade, and different kinds of letters are more or less helpful for persuading different kinds of people.
Your closest colleagues may not know how others in your field regard your work, and for them, a letter from an important contributor to your field will be most persuasive.
Your more distant colleagues, and your dean, may not have much idea of what you do, and for them, letters on prestigious letterheads may indicate that you and your work are widely known and well regarded.
To get tenure, you have to persuade all of these people, and so it would be good if your package contains some letters that describe your work in detail and explain why your contributions are tenure-worthy, and some letters from people who your deans will recognize as well positioned to give advice.
The chair of your tenure committee will be in charge of putting together the whole package, which can include an explanation of who the letter writers are and why they were chosen (and of what the letters say, if necessary). So...if some of your letter writers are from lesser known places, a sentence or two about the editorial boards they serve on, the prizes they have won, etc. may help their letters be as persuasive as they deserve to be to as wide an audience.
0 votes
answered ago by (3.3k points)
Provosts who have ALL OF THE REAL POWER matter sometimes in both directions.  Once the provost gives out tenure it can't be taken away, and usually their decision is the final one.  And the provost, and their university personnel committee may just look and count how many letters come from what they define as "peer institutions".

So I'd check with your colleagues.  1 or 2 outside letter writers from academics who are great but might be at a lesser known school is probably ok.  If this is the bulk of your letters, or the only really positive ones, this might not help and who knows could even hurt.  This is why the advice of senior colleagues can be really helpful because some of these tradeoffs are specific to each institution.