One of the many responsibilities facing today’s harried faculty is providing recommendation letters to students for various applications. These include internships, graduate programs, employment, grants, American Idol and requests to be un-disowned by their family. On the other end of the communication stream, readers of these letters have to choose among similarly skilled applicants, numbers of which can skyrocket.
Many programs require that recommendation letters remain hidden from applicants by asking senders to have them sealed, either with a signature on the envelope, signet ring or SWAK. However, an increasing number of letters are sent electronically, which leaves them open to applicant scrutiny. And, as all too many professors know, nothing interferes with lecture prep and department-head sycophancy than the sudden descent of helicopter parents.
Faculty in the psychology department at the University of Allpeople have figured out a way of communicating their true opinions about students who request recommendations. Dubbed “Rec-Loose” by department jester, Esteban Mor, PhD, this system comprises a list of keywords with alternative meanings. The bulk of these reflect “Barnum statements,” or nonspecific terms that could describe anyone. Some examples include:
“John is invested in learning” – low grades
“Marie is focused when approaching tasks” – poor self-direction
“Hector is a hard worker” – struggles to succeed
“Chloe is attuned to others’ feelings” – defensive in response to feedback
Professor Willy Swamp, one of the originators of the code system noted that some students amass multiple rec-loose statements in their recommendations. He referred to these as “train-rec letters.”
Unfortunately, it has not taken long for a group of Eastern European students to crack the code. One group in particular—who refer to themselves as Recker—maintains a rec-ileaks blog of common phrases. In response, the U of Allpeople faculty have retained the advisory services of Nobel-prize winning mathematician/code breaker, John Nash.
“We’ve encouraged our admissions office to do the same,” said Swamp. “If guidance counselors could tip us off ahead of time, maybe we could eliminate the need for all this skullduggery.”