You, Too, Can Write Nothing!

Uh-oh.  The University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa has agreed to provide its former Dean of Students with a “neutral reference” for future employment after some of the Dean’s tweets, published by Breitbart News, contributed to his resignation.  

A “neutral reference”?  Really?  

Before you get all uppity and start sputtering that this insipid concept could only come from a state that claims the Alabama red-bellied cooter (a pond turtle) as its official reptile, it must be acknowledged that the legal profession is apparently the true culprit here. 

Essentially, a neutral reference is a mechanism for preventing lawsuits.  Roughly translated, the implicit message of a neutral reference is, “We think this guy is an a**hole and/or incompetent and/or unethical and/or God-knows-what-else, but we’re not going to write any of this down (wink, wink). But we will tell you that he worked here.”

[Please, take a few moments to mop up the hypocrisy-induced barf you just spewed onto your lap.]

On those unfortunate occasions when your institution’s legal counsel has instructed you to write a neutral reference, feel free to use the following sample, provided at no charge by University Life, as a template:

Dear Hiring Committee:

I am neither pleased nor displeased to offer this reference letter regarding Professor Harold Twembly.  On the highway of professional life at our university, Professor Twembly occupies the median strip, where he has parked his 1972 AMC Gremlin and watches the traffic.  His research and scholarship have not advanced the field but, on the other hand, they have not retarded it.  Put another way, he has left his discipline undisturbed; think of his work as ink that disappears as it dries.

Professor Twembly’s students, when they can recall him, describe him as neither a good professor nor a bad one; he’s just “a professor.”  As one senior who took three courses with Professor Twembly wrote on his course evaluation, “he was there.”  End-of-course assessments indicate that his students do not learn anything, but none of them have grown more stupid, except for Vince Yorpelson, a tight end on the school’s football team who experienced three concussions during the Fall semester.   

Outside of class, students report that during visits to Professor Twembly’s office he neither smiles nor frowns.  “Imagine a cantaloupe with a lobotomy,” wrote one junior.  “He never has much to say, which is OK with me.  Really, it’s fine.”  

As a colleague, Professor Twembly is neither helpful nor unhelpful to fellow faculty members.  He just “is.”  He has never encouraged me to do anything, nor has he discouraged me.  In department meetings he radiates a Zen-like presence that resembles a small, odor-free tureen of vegetable broth served at room temperature.

In sum, Professor Twembly can be described as a human organism that has taught at our university for the past seven years.  I hope you have found this reference letter to be neither useful nor counterproductive when making — or not making — a decision — or no decision — concerning Professor Twembly.

There you have it.  No need to thank us.  At University Life, we always have your back.