recommending a student for a job I ethically oppose, employee tells me about his dating life, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Do I have to recommend a student for an internship that goes against my beliefs?

I work for a Catholic university, though I am not Catholic myself. Recently I had one of my students ask me for a recommendation because she was applying for an internship. The catch is that the internship is for a pro-life organization. Though this organization isn’t Catholic, it is in-line with Catholic teachings, but it’s not in line with my personal beliefs as I’m pro-choice. She’s a great student, so I want to support her, but I don’t want to support an organization that goes against my values. Is this an acceptable reason to say no to a reference? If so, is there a good way to tell the student no?

I can understand the impulse, but I think you’d be on shaky ground since you’re working for a Catholic university and her internship is aligned with Catholic teachings. Part of the gig is that you’ll write recommendations for good students and not pick and choose based on what you think of the prospective employer. (Of course, there are clearly limits to that; I don’t think anyone would expect you to write a recommendation to, say, a white supremacist group.) But I’d be really interested to hear from professors on this one.

2. Employee keeps telling me about his dating life

I have an employee who works for me, and has for more than eight years. Eighteen months ago, he lost his wife of several decades, after a long protracted illness. She was disabled for a good part of their long marriage as well, so he was a caretaker for her for many years. Throughout his wife’s illness, as his direct supervisor, I offered a lot of support, listened, and was flexible about his hours so he could be with her as much as possible. At the time and afterward, he said it meant a lot that I was understanding throughout the difficult time.

Recently he started dating another employee – and he is coming to my office telling me all the ups and downs of how things are going. It started with his excitement that someone had asked him out, and I thought I made it very clear that I did not want to know who and that I didn’t need to know anything, but I was happy for him. Then coming in to talk a few times, and saying he wasn’t sure he knew how to date after being out of the dating scene, which I offered sympathy for, and as soon as possible indicated I needed to get back to work. Now I’m getting more dropping by, or ending a talk about work projects with “not sure how this all works,” “she’s really nice and I really like her,” “health issues are coming up and I already have been there/done that,” etc. I try to keep the visits short and get back to my work, but I haven’t been able to not have them start up in the first place. I think it crosses the line past polite chit chat about life and family and into too much info, and makes me really uncomfortable.

How do I politely get back on track? Do I be blunt and say that it’s not really appropriate and/or that it makes me really uncomfortable? Steering or shutting down the conversation isn’t helping stop it, and I think it really should stop – or am I being unreasonable about that?

As it will probably come up: we’re not too far apart in age, opposite sex (and he is heterosexual), I am married, and we work in a small office area (11 people).

You’re not being unreasonable. Some people are more comfortable talking with employees about this kind of thing than others, but in general it’s easier to manage people when you keep some boundaries in place. And regardless of where you personally draw the line, you’d hope that people would pay attention to your cues and notice that you’re shutting particular topics down.

Try being more direct when it comes up in the moment by saying something like,“Let’s not go too far down that path — I’ve got to keep my manager hat on.”

But if doing that a time or two doesn’t work, then address it more head-on: “I’m truly happy that you’re happy, but as your manager, I want us to keep good boundaries, which for me means not getting into the intricacies of dating. I hope you understand.”

3. My boss whispers my name and it gives me the heebie-jeebies

The way our office is set up is kind of unique — six of us (the entire company — it’s a start-up) are in a small office (picture the smallest conference room) within a larger office. We don’t have noise issues in our office and we don’t need to be quiet at all times (one team member is frequently on the phone for her job, but the rest of us can converse at a quieter but audible volume even when this happens). For some reason, my boss has taken to whispering my name to get my attention, even when no calls are happening or just minutes earlier, others in our office were having a conversation at a normal volume. I usually hear her, but it makes my skin crawl. Can I ask her to stop or am I being dramatic?

Ugh, whispering often makes my skin crawl too — I don’t know why.

You can ask your boss not to do it! If you make it into a big thing, it’ll be weird, but if you’re matter-of-fact about it, it should be fine. Just say something like, “I’ve noticed you’ll often whisper my name when you want my attention. I have a weird thing where whispering is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Could I ask you to try not to?”

4. Discussing cancer history at a new job

I faced early-stage cancer last year (at age 30) during my last year of graduate school. I managed to graduate on time and land a job, which I’m starting this week. Thankfully, I am recovered and in remission, but I have to get scans every three months for the foreseeable future to make sure the cancer doesn’t recur. This will require me to miss two full days of work, a week apart, every quarter (one day for MRIs, for which I receive medication I can’t work on, and one for an office visit with my doctor, who is a two-hour drive away from me).

I am wondering how to address this situation with my new boss at my new job. The job offers unlimited vacation, so taking PTO isn’t a problem, but I’d like to explain why I’ll randomly have to miss two days a week apart from each other every three months, and I feel like “I have a doctor’s appointment” doesn’t quite do it justice. I know that if I told her the truth, the boss would (likely) not bat an eye at me missing work for something so important, but I also don’t want anyone to worry about my possible longevity at the company (for example, pass me over for an important role because there is — God forbid — always a chance that my cancer could come back and I might lose focus or at worst, go on medical leave). There is also just the general extreme personal nature of this type of conversation and the chance that she might look at me differently. How would you advise I handle this?

You’re not required to share the details of what’s going on! You’re right that it’ll probably help to give a little more context than just “I have a doctor’s appointment,” but it really doesn’t need to be a lot more than that. You could just say, “I want to give you a heads-up that I had a health situation a while back that is now under control, but I need to take two days off each quarter for medical stuff. I’ll of course let you know ahead of time when it’s scheduled.”

That’s really it! (And frankly, you might not even need to do that. You could just wait until the first set of appointments is coming up and say, “I’ll be out on the 15th and 23rd for medical appointments. And just to flag it for you, I’ll have this set of appointments quarterly for a while, to keep an eye on a health situation.”)

5. We have to make up our time for attending the company Christmas party

My workplace had a company-wide Christmas party last week. A week later, the head of my department (let’s say we’re the lid-making team) invited the 100 lid-makers to an offsite holiday party. The email was titled Teapot Company Lid-Making Team Christmas party. The event began at 4:00, an hour before end of business. We received two or three reminders to attend/RSVP. It felt obligatory, so I did.

Today, the hour I put on my time sheet for attending said party was rejected by HR, as “personal time” that I have to “make up.” It’s Friday. That means I have no choice now but to work through lunch or stay till 6 to make up for attending a team party yesterday. We were not told this would count as personal time. We were not told to work eight hours and then attend. Ridiculous? Should I push back?

Yeah, that’s unfair. If this wasn’t going to be considered paid work time, they should have been explicit about that, especially given the official reminders they were sending.

You could say this: “Based on the reminders to attend that we received and the fact that the event was during work hours, my understanding was that this was an official work activity and that our pay wouldn’t be docked for attending. Since we weren’t told up-front that we’d be attending on personal time, I don’t think we should need to work extra time or lose pay for participating in what seemed to be a strongly encouraged work activity.” If they don’t budge, suggest that they at least make it clearer in future years that your time at the party will be unpaid.

{ 820 comments… read them below }

  1. Xantar*

    3. All I can think is the whispering boss has been watching too many ASMR videos. I can’t explain this behavior otherwise.

    1. Becca*

      Upon reading #3 I realized I have a (bad?) habit of whispering to get someone’s attention when I’m feeling I don’t want to “bother” them. Not a great insecurity to have as a boss in particular, I imagine, but I suppose that could be it.

        1. Becca*

          Sure it doesn’t make sense. Lots of things about the ways insecurities manifest don’t make strict logical sense. But if I dig down it’s still the reason I do it, that somehow whispering feels like maybe I’m bothering them “less” (even though I’m not and may be bothering the more if they’re like the LW or Alison).

        2. Becca*

          And to be more clear I hadn’t really thought about it much until I read this letter. I’ll certainly be trying to work on not doing that in the future.

          1. Cat Fan*

            It’s good that you’ve realized it. Doesn’t make you a bad person. My admin has a similar thing where she comes to my cubicle, where I sit facing away from the entrance, and lightly taps on my cubicle wall. Sometimes she will also whisper my name. I have asked her many times to just knock or just say my name out loud. She just giggles and then gently taps again the next time. It drives me bonkers. Sometimes I don’t hear her and when I turn around she is there unexpectedly and it scares the crap out of me. Sometimes I do realize she’s there but just for spite I don’t turn around until she makes more of a noise. Ugh, she’s a nice person otherwise.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              Yes! I have a colleague who will lightly tap on my doorframe, and it’s honestly quieter than when people knock on my neighbors’ doors, so it feels so creepy when I finally notice!

              On the other hand, I think I probably ease into people’s line of sight and then say “hey” more often than I should, so. It’s good to pay attention to your weird habits.

            2. SteamedBuns*

              I work in an office with a frosted glass door. I usually keep the door open, but when I am making recruiting calls, having a private conversation, or meeting with an employee I shut it. Occasionally (frequently) I will also eat lunch in my office with the door closed. I will have people stand outside the door with their faces pressed on the glass trying to see what I am doing inside. I try to get through to them that if my door is shut I am busy but if they need to talk with me, just to knock and open the door. Seeing their darkened body shapes pressed up against my door and their mouths imprinting on the glass is not only distracting, but disgusting as well. You’re already interrupting me, you don’t have to make out with my door.

              Ugh…venting haha, but yeah I am with you. Out of spite I sometimes ignore the body shapes pressed up on my door…

              1. Jadelyn*

                LMAO! Making out with your door, ew.

                We’ve implemented lights – just cheap stick-on LEDs we slapped up on the wall next to the door, that we control the color of to indicate status. If the door is closed with a green light, knock and come in. If the door is closed with a yellow light, come in if it’s urgent or you really really need something, but otherwise please come back later. If the door is closed with a red light, go away – whatever is being discussed behind the closed door needs to stay behind the closed door and not be interrupted. It’s been pretty successful once employees got used to it.

            3. Autumnheart*

              I have a coworker who will try to get my attention by whispering “Psst!” instead of a) using my name and b) using a normal speaking voice. If I don’t respond (and I frequently don’t), she’ll wave, “Psst!” louder, and say “Hey!” but she won’t actually just use. my. name. “Hey Autumnheart, can you take a look at this?” is such a normal interaction in our office, “psst” is not. It’s really irritating.

              I know I should Use My Words and just tell her to use my name, but it happens infrequently enough for me to be surprised by it every time.

            4. AKchic*

              I can understand where you’re coming from. With my traumas, I cannot work in an office with my back facing the door. I have to *see* people coming through that door. Even in a cube farm, I made sure to position my monitors/work set up so I was sitting at the opening of my cube and facing outward as possible so people couldn’t “sneak” up on me, nor could they look over my shoulder at my monitor (my first ex-husband was big on monitoring all of my activity so I am huge on privacy, or the physical illusion of it).
              At my current office, my computer was set up when I was gone, so I wasn’t allowed to pick where my computer sat, so it is the opposite of where I want it. And of course, I’m not allowed to move it myself. In typical fashion, only IT can move it and IT is here so infrequently and never has time to do it. I put mirrors around my monitors so I can see behind me, and I am at the end of an empty, quiet hallway so I can hear anyone coming. Nobody can sneak up on me, even if they tried (a few have, thinking they are funny… they didn’t get the candy stash I keep in my drawer).

            5. TardyTardis*

              One time I went deaf for three weeks–sulfa drugs are not my friend, and it was an ear infection anyway–so I posted a sign letting people know they had to do a bit more than just saying my name to get my attention, like kick my chair gently (I could feel the vibration just fine). I really should have put up a mirror so I could see someone coming in the cubicle right away, but there you are.

          2. JSPA*

            Don’t beat yourself up–the person you’re whispering to may not mind at all. I’d find it amusingly conspiratorial or mildly chummy, not creepy or distracting. Instead of changing based on comments for the internet, you could “use your words” and just…ask.

        3. JKP*

          For me it makes sense because if I’m really focused and don’t want to be bothered, then a whisper is unlikely to get my attention and I’m able to continue working. The person who is whispering can interpret my lack of response as a “not now” and try again later. But if they talk to me in a normal volume, then they might startle me out of deep focus and interrupt what I was working on.

          1. Celia Bowen*

            Sorry but this makes no sense. Either you interrupt them or you don’t. If they don’t hear you they aren’t making a choice.

            1. JKP*

              What I mean is that if I’m busy, I would not notice the whisper because I would be too focused. But if I’m available, I would hear the whisper and respond to it. Whereas a normal voice would interrupt me either way. So someone whispering to me would ensure that I only respond to their whisper if they aren’t bothering me at that moment.

            2. London Engineer*

              It makes sense to me -I think JKP is saying that their noise filter is higher when they are busy, so that someone has to be speaking at normal volume to register, whereas most of the time they will pick up even on quieter or whispering tones of voice

          2. Mookie*

            I guess what I’d find offputting about it, whether the recipient of the whisper or audience to it, is that this group is accustomed and, as a result, probably unsually sensitive to auditory extremes, so hearing a name whispered in a current whisper-less context is probably going to ‘disrupt’ or ‘bother’ everyone. Like a lot of people, I can semi-consciously tune out other people’s names without much effort or distraction, but the sibilance of whispers can pique (and strain) ears in such close, intimate quarters.

            Is everybody getting whispered at by the boss, by the way? It’d be even more jarring if not.

          3. lw3*

            Hmmm I never even thought of this. Maybe that’s her motivation and maybe there have been times that I’ve been intently working through her whispering… in which case it would be a successful approach! But it still bugs the crap out of me so I think I will have to politely suggest another way to get my attention.

      1. Cat wrangler*

        I dislike whispers as all I tend to hear is ‘whoosh whoosh whoosh’ – I understand that if the background is noisy then lowering your voice is more effective to get someone’s attention than shouting but I don’t like whispers. I can’t hear them properly for a start and then I would rather go have a private conversation elsewhere than be whispered at or whisper myself, shades of school there. I’d ask your boss to speak your name in a normal tone if they want you – you can always say that you don’t tend to hear whispers.

        1. The Other Dawn*

          Same here. I tend to have a hard time hearing someone when there’s background noise, even if it’s not loud noise. When someone whispers to me under those conditions I just can’t hear them. I might catch a couple random words, but that’s about it. Even when it’s quiet, I still sometimes have a hard time hearing all the words.

        2. Allison*

          I hate hearing people whisper to each other in the office, all I hear is hissing and I get worried wondering why the conversation needs to be to hush-hush. I realize 90% of the time it’s just to be considerate, and people wouldn’t be having conversations about potential layoffs in the open like that, but still.

          1. Not Until after Christmas*

            I appreciate those who lower their voices, I don’t want to hear all the sidebar conversations and then having to pretend like I can’t hear them, but then again I like quiet when working. Working at home where I live alone is perfect for me.

          2. Katie*

            I agree. I’m great at tuning out normal chatter, but as soon as two people start whispering to each other, my ears perk up and I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing. I feel like whispering draws MORE attention than normal talk.

            1. JustaTech*

              I have a coworker who has a tendency to start whispering in the middle of a (non-work related) conversation, even if the topic hasn’t gotten any more personal or sensitive. It bugs the heck out of me when people whisper, so I just keep talking normally (but quietly). I’ll also lean away from this coworker so they have to speak up if they want me to hear them.

              I’ve found the difference in tone of whispering versus speaking quietly actually draws *more* attention.

              1. pancakes*

                I’ve worked with people like that and every time I have, I’ve wound up trying to minimize conversation with them. Shifting to whispering for no reason is weirdly coy, sometimes childish, and often more conspicuous than speaking at a normal or low volume.

        3. KimberlyR*

          I have a hard time hearing whispers too. And I hate making people repeat themselves (after the second time, it just seems ridiculous.) I especially have trouble hearing deeper tones so if someone with a deep voice is speaking to me, I really need to face them to hear properly. Whispers and me saying, “What? Sorry, I couldn’t hear you!” over and over would drive me bonkers.

        4. Ellex*

          Auditory processing disorder for the win!

          I have a hard enough time picking out what one person is saying in a normal volume in a noisy place – I can’t make out whispers no matter how quiet it is. Which is annoying because I actually have very acute hearing – I just don’t process what I hear well.

          Everywhere I’ve worked, I’ve established right from the start that I can’t hear whispering. I say it over and over again…and people continue to whisper at me. Once I’ve told them 2 or 3 times, I’ll just stare at them until they stop speaking and say, “I have no idea what you just said, because as I’ve mentioned previously, I can’t hear whispering.”

          One person actually told me she didn’t think she was whispering, but she said everything – and I do mean everything – in very dramatic tones that bounced from whisper to near-shout to sing-song.

          I don’t let it bother me anymore. If you can’t speak to me in anything close to a normal (quiet is fine, whispering is not) volume, then you’ll just have to repeat yourself. I can’t control my ability to hear, but you can control your voice.

      2. Legal Beagle*

        I completely understand this. It can be a way of signaling to the person that you realize they are busy/focused and you’re interrupting them. So, it’s an attempt to be courteous but I do see how it could be creepy and annoying!

        Similarly, I work with someone who will come over to my desk and say my name in a singsong voice when she needs a favor. It’s a signal of “I’m about to ask for you for something so I want to soften my approach.” (I’m not complaining about this, btw – it’s fine for me. Just sharing a data point.)

      3. lw3*

        I actually believe this is exactly why she does it – a form of trying to be respectful in a way that actually is counter-intuitive. I think if I mention something to her I’ll have to give her another option like, “can you send me a chat to get my attention instead?” so that she doesnt feel worse.

    2. NDC*

      Ugh, I hate whispering sounds, and ASMR videos make me physically recoil. I get that some people enjoy them, but they really are not my thing.

      1. shep*

        I actually like most ASMR, but I definitely hate whispering (both in daily life and ASMR); something about all the hissy syllables sets me on massive edge.

      2. Amber T*

        I thought it was just me! Most ASMR videos make me super uncomfortable for some reason, but whispering/anything with voice especially weirds me out. I don’t know what about it it is… I’m fine with whispering in general and I love me some Benedict Cumberbatch voice.

      3. Risha*

        Me too! I thought that I was just weird because everyone says they’re supposed to be soothing, but even the non-whisper ones are like nails on a chalkboard.

        1. Autumnheart*

          They’re only soothing to a certain subset of people. Not to everyone. According to the Wikipedia page, one of the triggers is “loudly chewing, crunching, slurping or biting foods, drinks, or gum” and I feel pretty confident that tons of people find those noises actively unpleasant, whether they actually suffer from misophonia, or just don’t want to hear people slurp or chew.

          1. Kelly AF*

            I love whisper videos, but some other sounds that trigger ASMR in others make me almost nauseated. I suspect that misophonia and ASMR aren’t so much opposites as flip sides of the same coin, and that experiencers of one may also experience the other, depending on the particular sound in question.

    3. Electric Pangolin*

      When I haven’t spoken for a bit, the first thing I say often comes out too quiet – I can’t really tell what volume my voice will be until I actually hear it and I’d rather undershoot and whisper than accidentally shout at people. I try to cover it with a cough and repeat what I said at a normal volume, but I only realized it was a problem after being refused service for rudeness in multiple places of business because my greeting was inaudible. (In France, that is an unpardonable affront.)

      1. Joielle*

        This happens to me too! Also sometimes I accidentally knock waaaaay too quietly because I’d rather undershoot than accidentally startle someone with a too-loud noise. Hopefully nobody is offended… we’re trying to be polite!

      2. Turquoisecow*

        If I have to make a phone call after not speaking aloud for a while, I will often clear my throat and practice saying “hello” a few times beforehand, to make sure I’m not going to just be a hoarse whisper.

    4. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I HATE whispering. And it never accomplishes what you want, because it stands out so much more than normal talking. I used to have two coworkers who would whisper alllll the time (usually complaining about their jobs/the company) but whenever they did it was all my brain could focus on and I couldn’t get any work done. Somehow not being able to make out what they were saying made my brain hyper-focus on it to try to figure it out. If they were talking in a normal volume I wouldn’t have noticed them talking at all.

      1. Not Until after Christmas*

        Definitely different strokes for different folks. I notice and am distracted by loud conversations in my workspace.

      2. shep*

        I’m the same way. Super-loud conversations can be distracting, but on the whole, whispering is way worse. Every once in a while, someone stops to talk to my across-the-hall neighbors and announces themselves with a rapid drumming of nails on the door and a “Psssssssssssst!” Which is not quite whispering, but includes the same obnoxious hiss. Drives me absolutely mad.

    5. lazuli*

      I had an employee who would whisper my name when she came to my office door and I was working on something. I had really good rapport with her, so after a couple times I responded (in a whisper, smiling), “Why are you whispering?” She told me that the office was so quiet that she felt loud and obnoxious speaking in a regular voice when I was in the middle of something; it was her way of being considerate. I explained that the whispering actually disturbed me more, so it was not really meeting her objective. After that she made a point of stating my name loudly (comically so, the first few times) when she came into my office, and we both laughed at ourselves, and it was all good from then on.

      1. lw3*

        I wish I could do this! I have a great rapport with my boss, but… she’s my boss so I’d be hesitant to do something that could be seen as jokey making fun of her, even though she makes fun of herself all the time.

    6. GhostWriter*

      I’ve startled a bunch of people by going to their cubicle and saying things like, “Hey, Coworker, do you have a minute to help me with a teapot production report?” at a normal speaking volume. They’ve said I startled them because they didn’t hear me coming (I’m apparently silent when I walk–guess I should tie jingle bells to my shoes or carry a box of Tic Tacs).

      Now I’m afraid of startling people, so when I approach their cubicle I whisper their name (and increase the volume of my voice until they hear me if they don’t the first time) because it seems like it would be less startling. I didn’t realize people thought whispering was annoying. I’m not sure what else to do besides cubicle knocking though, which I imagine would be startling too.

      1. Amber Rose*

        One of my coworkers hums or whistles as he walks up to people. A different coworker makes a grand entrance in the doorway, loudly exclaiming that he has arrived and we should all rejoice. One of upper management makes the road runner meep-meep noise.

        I mean, no matter what you do you’re gonna annoy someone, so don’t stress about it.

      2. Your Weird Uncle*

        My coworker down the hall is wearing jinglebell earrings today and I can hear her all the way from her office to mine when she’s walking to my office. You should go with those, for sure. ;)

    7. Steve*

      Much as whispering isn’t appreciated, would it be better or worse than the colleague who yells out my name as he walks past me (in an open-plan office)? A rhetorical question – I’m just venting.
      (I probably shouldn’t have the ‘it could be worse’ attitude, but I’m at a point where I plan to bring in headphones so that he stops, because he’s doing it every time he passes by and not because he needs to talk with me)

    8. Amber Rose*

      This was literally also my first thought. That’s probably why it bugs the LW (and many others who hate whispering) would be my guess. Not everybody enjoys ASMR, and even for those who do, there’s a time and a place. Personally I hate sound in general as an ASMR trigger, it makes me feel like my scalp is trying to crawl into my ears.

      That’s a bit off topic, I guess, but it might help reframe things for the LW that it’s not just them being dramatic, some people just can’t handle whispering for biological reasons.

    9. Public Sector Manager*

      I do a whispering thing with my wife. It’s generally when she’s half asleep, and in a real creepy whispering voice I lean in and say, “puts the lotion on its skin.” It’s all part of my charm. That too makes her skin crawl.

      Up until letter #3, I would have said a whisperer isn’t a pet peeve. But the more and more I thought about it, in an office context, whispering would bug me. I think I’d rather have a grunt, a knock, humming, or anything else except a whisper. And if the whisperer was my boss, I can feel the OP’s rage.

      Totally justified in saying something to the boss.

    10. SW Anon*

      Ugh, I can’t stand ASMR videos and my wife loves them! I have a pretty bad case of misophonia and they are such a bad trigger.

      I have an employee who on two occasions has SNUCK UP BEHIND ME and whispered directly in my ear while I was running a meeting. Who does that?! I have PTSD and hate being snuck up on, let alone then having a whisper so close I can feel someone’s breath in my ear. She’s lucky I didn’t startle enough to take a swing.

    11. lw3*

      I can’t stand ASMR videos, but I know a lot of people love them. the idea that whispering is enjoyable to other people…. yikes!

    12. Indigo a la mode*

      My coworker next to me listens to music while he works, and our desks are at angles that face away from each other. When I need him, getting his attention is shockingly difficult. “Fergus. ….Fergus. ….FERGUS.” and more often then not, when I then drop my voice and whisper “Fergus,” he’s more likely to hear me than when I’m being loud! Something about a susurrus seems to really cut through people’s ears.

      My only other options are to tap his shoulder, which always makes him jump like he’s been struck by lightning, or try to awkwardly roll into his line of vision, staring him down.

    13. MCMonkeyBean*

      Whispering does a better job at getting people’s attention. I can see how it would come off creepy to do it all the time but I have definitely had times where I called out for someone once or twice and they didn’t notice but then whispered their name and they responded. I wonder if the boss has had someone in their life either personally or professionally who was bad at responding unless you whispered which caused them to develop this habit.

      Personal anecdote: I had a roommate once who often had her alarm clock blaring right next to her face and would not wake up. I frequently had to go to her room and stick my head in the door and whisper her name and she would jolt awake. It was especially annoying when she decided for a while she wanted to get up at 5 AM and go do early morning yoga.

    1. Greg NY*

      Yes, I was going to say essentially the same thing. Your main responsibility as a professor is to help your students succeed. If you withhold a reference to an organization that your student wants to intern at and will be a good fit for your student, you should do what’s best for them. While you may not want to support an organization that goes against your beliefs, it’s worse if you are depriving your student of a good opportunity because of your own beliefs.

      I also don’t think this situation is going to be a one-off. If you work for a Catholic university, there will probably be plenty more situations of internship connections between pro-life organizations (or otherwise in line with Catholic teachings). When you work for an employer like a Catholic university, this comes with the territory, and if you are not Catholic, you have to understand and accept that some (perhaps many) of the university’s connections will be aligned with it.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Your main responsibility as a professor is not to help your students succeed. Recommendations are one of many areas in which students have a great deal of discretion (and for good reason). No student has a right to a recommendation.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            At most universities, it’s to produce research, to teach, and to provide service to the university and broader community.

            Your investment in student success is usually focused on a much narrower set of outcomes than general “career and life” success. You’re trying to help them master specific academic concepts and tools, as well as to help them develop certain critical thinking skills. But there’s no obligation for professors to help their students succeed in obtaining non-academic internships, and there’s certainly no general obligation to prioritize students’ general life/career success. Many professors invest time in student mentorship (especially undergraduate mentorship) even though that investment is not professionally rewarded. Frankly, at many universities you’ll get dinged if you prioritize general “student success” over your research and teaching obligations.

            1. professor*

              this falls under both teaching and service. Students 100% should be able to expect rec letters that accurately reflect their abilities (ie, you can refuse if you can’t write the student a strong on due to their abilities). Many, many universities care very much about students and teaching- less so for big research institutions, probably a lot more at the kind of institute the LW is at. Rec letter writing is definitely a major job duty, so much so that professors are expected to write them for YEARS for students they were closely involved with (say grad students- one’s advisor may be asked to write a letter when that person goes up for tenure more than a decade after they graduate).

              Not writing a letter for a student because your beliefs disagree is like the pharmacist who refuses to fill a prescription for a woman seeking an abortion. It may not literally be life and death, but students need multiple letters and they won’t get these positions without good letters, from someone who knows them well. If they are asking you, you may be it or one of few or the best suited. You don’t get to cause students to lose opportunities for your personal beliefs.

              I abhor the pro-life movement, but I would still write the letter.

              1. Guy Incognito*

                I agree with you professor. It’s not always the “priority” for students to succeed, but these considerations go into evaluations. (Source – I’m an administrator at a University, and I am often tasked with gathering materials.)

                OP 1 – support your student. One of the wonderful things about working at a University (for me at least) is that you get to expose yourself to a lot of different people and beliefs. You don’t always have to like it (as Allyson said -there are lines to be drawn) but in this case, you work for a Catholic University. You need to support your student. This will probably come up several times, despite the fact that you are not Catholic yourself. You’re going to have to either – find a new University, or understand you may have to write a few letters of rec where you won’t support the organization.

                1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

                  I’ve been working in Catholic higher education for 11 years and this is actually the first time it’s come up! Though now that it has I’m surprised it hasn’t before.

              2. Pippa*

                I see your point and agree in part (I’m a professor, too) but while I have a general duty to write recommendations for students, I don’t have to write *every* recommendation letter that’s requested. I’ll say no if for some reason I can’t write that student a strong recommendation that would help them – a student I don’t know well enough or who isn’t well qualified for the (grad program, job, etc) for which they’re applying. There are also some other circumstances where I’d say no (Alison’s example of a white supremacist organization) and in every such case I tell the student that it would be in their interest to find a professor who could write them a stronger and more enthusiastic letter. I think the OP could do that here.

                Recommendations aren’t issuable on demand. The pharmacist analogy is not the right one; letters of rec from a professor are a professional endorsement using the professor’s expertise and stature. A recommendation says I endorse this person’ application and support their desire to work for you/join your lab/whatever, based on my professional assessment of their abilities. Pharmacists aren’t required to lend their names to an announcement endorsing the plans of their customers. It’s never appropriate for a pharmacist to refuse to fill a valid prescription written by a doctor, but it is sometimes appropriate for a professor (or anyone else) to decline to provide a recommendation and suggest that someone else could write a better or more supportive one.

                1. June*

                  Not to derail too much on this, but absolutely pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions that in their professional medical judgement (not personal judgment) are inappropriate. If a doctor writes for 100x the normal dose of a potentially deadly drug (for example) without a defensible rationale the pharmacist can and should refuse to fill it even if the prescription is valid, and the pharmacist could lose their license if they do fill it and the patient is harmed.

              3. Sunshine*

                Would it not link the professor to an organisation she does not want to be linked to? Genuine question; I could see it creating a professional connection where she does not want one to exist.

                1. JessaB*

                  I think it depends on the letter, if the professor is writing a general letter about the skills of the student, then no. If the professor is writing a specifically targeted letter designed to fit that particular circumstance, yes.

                  Also the professor in question might want to ask for guidelines from the school itself. Catholic institutions have guidelines, and it may be against the school’s policy to write for that. Not a nice thing, but it’s possible since the letter would likely be on school letterhead, and the school would dislike a letter showing up on the internet that went against their stated principles.

                  So before wondering if personally they had to do it, they might have a ready made “Sorry the school doesn’t permit that.” which stinks for the student, but you get those issues when you go to a specifically targeted school. Whether that’s Catholic or something else a student should have a pretty good idea of the limits of studying there.

            2. Rock Prof*

              Advising is part of my teaching expectations, and post-graduation plans fall into that. Recommendations are literally part of my job; it’s explicitly in the departmental merit review materials and my hiring paperwork.

              1. ket*

                I agree that broadly recs are part of the job — I spent 8 hours writing them last week. And in this case, if the student is good, the prof should give the rec. (They can also say something about disagreeing with the organization, if they want! Not within the usual bounds of professionalism, but if it makes them feel better and they still represent the student accurately, it might split the difference.)

                However, that doesn’t mean that *every* rec is part of a professor’s job. I know that I can really tank a student’s application to graduate school or job application by being honest. My current trainer at the gym, a student? “Fails to show up randomly, doesn’t seem to realize that this is a job.” I’m worried about the recommendation that’s staring me in the face this morning, which I agreed to because the student had a really good grade in my class and I’d like him to succeed: on looking at it honestly rather than emotionally, I haven’t got much beyond “did good homework” and “was pleasant in class”. That’s not actually a recommendation! I don’t think students, or the general public, realize that a rec like “was nice and got an A” is actually kind of… not good… everyone else I agreed to write a rec for I could spend three paragraphs on their contribution to research & clever coding & proofs of this & questions about that.

                Our job is to help our students succeed *in the long run* and that requires honesty and communication, including saying when someone’s work is not good. In this case, if the student’s work is good but you don’t support the organization, you can say so briefly and politely to the applicant (and maybe the org), if you want, and then move on very swiftly to giving a normal recommendation for the student. That will leave a longer-lasting impression of integrity than refusing to recommend a student because of their beliefs.

                1. That girl from Quinn's house*

                  “Was nice and got an A” though is the best a student might be able to get from any professor, if the university has big classes. My university had classes that ranged from 100-500 for lower-level classes, and 50 for upper level classes, but my university sent a very high number of students onward to graduate school. There’s simply no way a professor’s going to have a close, personal relationship with hundreds of students a semester.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I’m not contesting that recommendations are not part of the job—they are. I’m contesting the idea that because writing recommendations are part of the job, you’re obligated to write a letter for every student who asks (particularly those who performed well in your classes) for all purposes.

                1. Ann O'Nemity*

                  There’s a huge difference between withholding a letter of recommendation because a student didn’t earn it (poor grades, etc) and because you personally don’t support the organization the student is applying for.

                2. Rock Prof*

                  I agree with you on the discretion, but I did want to point out that for some of us recommendations are literally part of the job. At an undergraduate institution with a small faculty, it can be tough for students if one or two faculty members turn them down because that might be all of their academic department (my own department is 3 people).
                  All that said, in an instance where a student was applying for something I had ethical issues with, I would likely turn them down but also provide some resources so they could find a substitute recommender. If it became a pattern of turning down students, I think my university would have something to say about it; I don’t think they would fire me (even with tenure there’s no protection where I am), but it would be a possibility.

              1. Clorinda*

                Depends on your field. My husband is a professor of music. He has written a couple of books but his department head has made it very clear to him that his main job duties are recruiting/retaining/preparing students for their careers, and secondarily performance. His original work comes in a distant third.

                1. Catleesi*

                  I think it’s highly dependent upon your institution. If you are at an R1 for instance research and original work may be your focus and teaching secondary, but other institutions may place a higher value on dedicating time to teaching and serving students.

        1. TL -*

          It is one of the main responsibilities of a professor, and in some universities it is absolutely the main responsibility.
          Every university I’ve worked at has taken student success rates very seriously in granting tenure and evaluating professors – whether it’s student evaluations in teaching-focused universities or graduate student success/graduation rates in research-focused universities. A professor refusing to write any recommendation letters would get censured by head of department and/or tenure committee and/or others, as well as lose collaboration opportunities. A professor who was unusually selective about them would be allowed to get away with it *if* their word carried a lot of weight.

          Furthermore if a professor had a reputation of not writing recommendation letters, they would be hard-pressed to find any grad students/undergrads/postdocs who would be willing to work for them. No one may be entitled to recommendation letters, but they are absolutely part of a professor’s job and part of the unspoken academic contract.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            That’s a different definition of success than what Greg NY is describing. He’s using student “success”—writ large—to justify why OP should write the recommendation. I’m saying that that definition of student success he’s using is overbroad and does not accurately reflect the criteria used to evaluate a professor’s performance. All of the indicators you’ve described are directly related to students’ academic performance, not their ability to secure an internship in a non-academic context.

            Of course all professors are expected to write letters of recommendation. But they’re not obligated to write a letter for any student who requests a recommendation for any purpose. There are reasonable limits, and all recommendations are ultimately up to each professor’s discretion. OP’s decision to decline to write a recommendation would not be inconsistent or out of bounds with the discretion afforded to professors when they decide whether to vouch for a student.

            1. oes*

              Actually, at all the institutions where I’ve taught (30 years in academia) this situation would be inconsistent or out of bounds. Tenure allows professors much “discretion,” and at R1 institutions, in particular, its exercise can be quite capricious. But at student-centered colleges, refusing a recommendation in this circumstance would be considered a major problem. Would the faculty member be fired? Hardly. But it would damage her reputation with her colleagues.

              1. Bleh*

                Calling R1 professors “capricious” merely buys into the anti-intellectualism in our culture. I’m surprised that a fellow academic would do so.

                1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

                  Eh- I’m a graduate student, and I can absolutely see some of the full professors whose purpose in life is their research, but they still have to teach some undergrads, that they would probably only write a letter for an undergrad they adored, and might pass on one who merely did well in their class. I don’t think it’s necessarily anti-intellectual, just that some professors don’t prioritize that part of their job, particularly as PCBH says, they’re not really rewarded for doing so.

                2. Fact & Fiction*

                  But oes didn’t call R1 professors capricious. Oes said that the exercise of discretion among tenured professors in R1 institutions _can be_ quite capricious. There’s a difference between saying that R1 professors _are_ capricious and that, in general, the exercise of discretion among those professors _can be_ capricious. I’m speaking as a writer and editor, not an academic. I also wouldn’t necessarily expect that all academics would agree on anything any more than everyone in other groups do, either.

            2. Not Until after Christmas*

              Perhaps the person teaching at a Catholic affiliated institution should rethink her employment there if philosophical differences with the religion will cause an otherwise deserving student not to get a recommendation, regardless of the purpose. I don’t think professors should be overly pedantic about it, it’s a good thing to help students regardless, students who are often going deeply in debt to attend that particular institution. Geez.

              1. Lew*

                Agreed. Being willing to take a paycheck from a pro life organization but not willing to write a reference so someone else can work for one is splitting some mighty fine hairs.

              2. Michio Pa*

                This is where I come down. I don’t think every professor is obligated to write a rec for every student, but if your stance towards the university is “I’ll take your money and contribute to your academic integrity, but I won’t help your students succeed along the path that you have promoted” then you have to square that away with yourself.

            3. Mary*

              This would not be true in the UK, where writing a reference (not specifically a recommendation) for a student is absolutely part of the academic tutor’s duties and it would be outrageous to refuse.

          2. MatKnifeNinja*

            There is no bigger deal than U of Michigan for research.


            I would think long and hard if this is a hill you want to die on.

            You are evaluating the student’s skill set. It’s a Catholic university, and being prolife is part of the deal. The church issues hss with non heterosexual relationships. Fertility treatments. View points on marriage. End of life care. This time it’s for a prolife job. What if next time it’s for a “pray away the gay” organization?

            Either make up your mind it’s strictly about the student, or start looking for a different place to work, since this is probably not the only belief you hold different from the church.

            1. GreenDoor*

              I agree. The OP is looking at this the wrong way. It’s not the reference writers job to determine whether the prospective employer is a worthy organization. It’s the reference writer’s job to endorse the skill set, experience, and attitude of the candidate. The question isn’t “Should my student work for this organization?” It’s “To what extent would my student be capable of performing the tasks and being successful in the role as described in the job description”

          3. nom de plume*

            Are you faculty? Because this is not a thing, really. At non R-1s, teaching is weighed heavily, yes, but that is NOT the same as student success rate, not by a long mile. It is incorrect to suggest that department chairs and even higher uni administrators equate one with the other. I have never, never heard of faculty getting censured for not writing letters.

            As others have mentioned above, it is widely recognized that faculty have autonomy and leeway in deciding for whom to write. So your first paragraph is highly misleading.

        2. Dot Warner*

          Nobody is entitled to a recommendation, but if this student does good work and would otherwise get a recommendation from OP, OP should not withhold it. OP has no right to let their ethical beliefs affect their students’ futures.

        3. Artemesia*

          I think that students have a right to recommendation; it is a fundamental duty of being a professor to provide this. Obviously if you can’t give a good rec, you tell the students they will do better to find someone else, but they are entitled to this support. And anyone pretending that it is okay for THEMSELVES to work at a pro life organization (the Catholic Church) but then not give recs for students who want to work for such an organization is tied into an odd moral knot. Yeah don’t recommend them to the Nazi party or the KKK but when you work for the Catholic Church, you can’t take their money and then not help your students to earn theirs because you disagree with their dogma. And I am pro-choice too.

          1. Lyssa*

            I agree that the hypocrisy of the LW working for a clearly pro-life organization (even if her specific role is not related to that), but refusing the student assistance with the same, is the most glaring thing. The white supremacist comparison is not really valid, as the Catholic church does not hold clear white supremacist views.

            If a professor in the same Catholic institution did not want to give a recommendation to say, NARAL or Planned Parenthood, I don’t think that would be a problem- I would think the student should accept that she knew that she was attending a Catholic institution, and should expect that they’re not likely to help with that sort of thing.

            1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

              See, I went through IVF while working at the school, and my supervisor and his supervisor knew and it wasn’t ever an issue. But this organization is against IVF because of the fertilized egg are a human issues.

              I also asked my supervisor if I could volunteer at Planned Parenthood as an escort and he said that as long as I did it on my own time and didn’t wear University clothing it would be fine. So it’s not super clear cut, even at the school.

              1. Z*

                I think the fact that this organization opposes (and presumably actively fights against) a procedure you yourself went through makes it different. Additionally, I think you not being a professor also makes this different and much more like a job reference than people are currently framing it as.

                If you’re comfortable sharing your IVF with your student, I think that would be a clear reason to turn her down without getting into abortion. I think otherwise a polite version of “I’m sorry, I don’t think I’m the best person for this” is perfectly acceptable. You know this student better than any of us, but assuming she’s competent and passionate I doubt you’re her only option for a letter. Sometimes your job recommendations don’t work out and that’s something all of us learn and deal with.

                1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

                  I’ll keep this in mind, though while I’m generally open about my IVF, I would be concerned about continuing to work with her in the spring if she thinks I’ve sinned by undergoing the procedure. That said if I chose not to write the recommendation things might be awkward anyways! Right now I’m leaning towards letting her know I volunteer with PP but would be happy to write the rec if she’s still comfortable with that, but either way there’s so much potential awkwardness!

              2. wow*

                It sounds to me like this Catholic University is setting an example to you of how you should behave. They were gracious to you and did not get in the way of you supporting your own values; you should do the same for someone else.

                1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

                  Someone below pointed this out as well and I think it’s a really fair point, thank you for making it!

                2. pancakes*

                  The idea that it’s “gracious” of an employer not to condemn an employee for doing IVF and/or volunteer work on their own time is so strange to me, and so patronizing.

                3. CPA student*

                  pancakes- I believe the idea is that IVF and volunteering with PP are fundamentally against the Catholic belief system. Many Catholic organisations have morality clauses that say that if you openly violate Catholic morality that can bring scandal to the public, then you can get fired.

                  The University is being gracious because they are not forcing their belief (and it is a religious organisation after all) on the OP. This is not a secular institute and can expect their employees to behave in align of the belief system

        4. beth*

          I see your point here–broadly speaking, helping students succeed at life isn’t really a professor’s job. But writing letters of recommendation is a normal and common thing that professors do; they might not be obligated to do it for any one particular student, but it is a task that’s part of the job. And declining to write a recommendation because you don’t like the organization the student is applying to feels different than declining because you can’t write them a strong letter or because they asked at the last minute and you don’t have time.

    2. Engineer Woman*

      Yep, I was going to say the exact same thing. If the student is a great one and this aligns with his/her beliefs, you are preventing them from a opportunity they want. You are then not supportive of the student at all and projecting your own beliefs into their internship search.

      1. Artemesia*

        WHILE working for the Catholic Church yourself whose doctrines you disagree with. Just a hypocritical stance in the extreme here.

          1. pancakes*

            It isn’t, but it’s not at odds with them either—the essence of a Catholic school is to provide education within a Catholic framework, no?

            1. Catholic School for 17 years (Agnostic for 14)*

              Sometimes a catholic school is just a school that has some priests hanging out. You’ll have to take some religion-oriented classes but the vast majority of stuff is normal school. There are schools that very focused on the overall “catholicness” but from their responses it doesn’t seem like the OPs school is that type.

              1. pancakes*

                I think I see what you mean—I think that’s precisely the theory my mother was hoping I’d accept when she tried to send me to a catholic high school. I’ve been atheist since very early grade school and started crying my eyes out while being fitted for a uniform, and didn’t let up until she backed down. The idea of spending 4 years surrounded by & being taught by people whose views I fundamentally disagreed with was a horror to me. I can see why people who identify as religious would think a class or two here & there is no big deal, but I can’t see why someone who doesn’t would seek that out.

    3. I woke up like this*

      LW1: I’m a Women’s Studies professor at a public research university. I am also proudly, staunchly pro-choice. I think what I would do would depend very much on the specific organization. Not all anti-abortion organizations are the same. If the organization was one that deceives vulnerable women with false information or creates fabricated videos of abortion providers or organizes aggressive protests in front of clinics or targets abortion providers–I’d probably say no. And in my explaining to the student, I’d focus on how I think the tactics of the organization are hurtful to women and pregnant people. But if this were an anti-abortion organization that focused on lobbying and legislative activism or supporting pregnant people (without coercing or deceiving them into giving birth), I’d likely write the letter and then donate to my local abortion fund or Planned Parenthood Action Center.

      1. I woke up like this*

        I just want to add: it’s ok to let your status at the university inform your decision. I noticed that you don’t mention your position. If you are not tenured faculty, and especially if you’re not tenure track at all, you may consider checking in with a trusted mentor before talking to the student. There’s so much precarity in academic positions, and with the targeting of professors via alt-right groups, it’s ok to consider how to protect yourself when deciding what to do and what to tell the student. This is true too if you’re staff, as I doubt you’re unionized.

        BTW, I don’t think this is a completely black/white situation, and I don’t think you should think about it in absolute binaries. There will be compelling, persuasive ethical arguments supporting your choice, no matter which choice you make. You won’t have to turn in your feminist pro-choice card if you write the letter, and you don’t have to think of yourself as an insurmountable obstacle to student success if you don’t. Best of luck, LW1.

        1. Adjunctifunky*

          Boosting the point about status. Not all academic statuses are the same. For me, as an adjunct, I would probably write the letter focusing on Student’s strengths and not specifically mentioning much about the org’s mission.

          There was recently a case where a prof declined to write for a student who was applying for something with a Pro-Israeli focus. The prof had serious philosophical objections, and ended up getting into pretty serious trouble. As an adjunct, that would likely be the end of my employment at that institution. I think, though, the general consensus amongst people I know is that he could have written a letter like the one I describe. He could also follow the suggestion about to donate time or money to an opposite cause. But the important point is that you need to know your status and the potential outcomes of your options.

    4. lcsa99*

      I was just coming here to say that. Your recommendation is for the student. You aren’t recommending or supporting the organization. SHE will be supporting the organization if she gets the job but that’s on her. If you think she could do a great job, give her the recommendation.

      1. Kes*

        Yeah, it’s not like if OP doesn’t give a reference the organization won’t hire someone; if OP doesn’t give the student a reference they’re just preventing the student from getting a job. And if you work at a Catholic university I do think it’s a problem if you’re not willing to support students who are following Catholic beliefs.

    5. rj*

      yes. this. I am a prof. My students do many things I disagree with. My job (if I am asked to recommend them) is to make sure I know the student well enough to give them a good recommendation. Or tell them directly that I cannot recommend them because I don’t know them well enough, because they were never in class. That’s it. And if the job/internship/whatever is out of my area of knowledge, make sure I get more information from the student so I can write a good recommendation.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I would have thought that in any university professors will have students interested in jobs with organizations that they find problematic for any number of reasons. Obviously some reasons might be more important on a personal level than others, but I think it would be ethically questionable to deny a student a recommendation solely because the professor disagrees with the nature of the organisation.

    6. Accounting IsFun*

      +1 – as a faculty member, my job is to support the students. We teach them how to think and work, not what to think and where to work.

      1. KHB*

        Teaching students how to think, not what to think, doesn’t imply that every possible outcome of that thinking must be deemed equally valid. There’s a line beyond which it’s OK to say “If this is where your thinking led you, then you’re doing it wrong.” (E.g., Alison’s example of the white supremacist organization.) So it’s reasonable to ask where exactly that line is.

    7. Kyrielle*

      Which, in fact, it is. If your student doesn’t get the internship, some other student, equally or almost as deserving, will. That organization will go forward without significant impact from your decision. The student is the one who will be impacted.

      If you didn’t work at a Catholic university, I would say maybe discuss your reservations with the student but supply the reference. Given that you DO work at a Catholic university, I don’t think you can have that discussion. Pro-life positions are expected and supported in that environment, and you’re an employee.

    8. Thursday Next*

      PABJ is absolutely right. It’s my responsibility to speak to a student’s work when I write a letter of recommendation, not to the mission of the organization she’s applying for. Of course, if I’m familiar with the organization or institution, I can speak to how qualified the student would be for it.

      If I don’t feel capable of writing a strong recommendation, I always let the student know that she’d be better served by seeking another professor’s recommendation.

    9. Dr. Pepper*

      Yes, exactly. Consider this from the standpoint of supporting the student. You do not choose what the student does with her life and career: she does. Since the organization is in line with Catholic values and you work at a Catholic university (and presumably the student is Catholic), you don’t have much standing to professionally disagree with her choices. Privately of course it’s a different matter, but you are employed by the university, and if the university approves of the organization, then you do not have standing to go against that. Write her an honest recommendation or consider working for a secular institution.

  2. Sandy*

    #1 reminds me strongly of the recent incident in the news by a Professor at the University of Michigan, who refused to write a letter of recommendation for one of his students to attend a study abroad program.

    It’s an easily Googleable case, and I would urge the letter-writer, if they haven’t already, to take a look at some of the debates around that (Inside Higher Ed has a number of them):

    “The case raises complex questions for professors about academic freedom and faculty obligations. Generally, most would probably agree that principles of academic freedom give a professor every right to refuse to write a letter on the basis of a student’s poor academic performance. But to what extent is writing recommendation letters a faculty duty such that refusing to write one for nonacademic reasons breaks an unwritten social contract? How should institutions balance academic freedom with the expectation that faculty will write letters to support their students’ academic goals — that is, when their performance in the classroom merits it? The questions at issue are not settled ones, even from the perspective of the main body that advocates for faculty freedoms and rights, the American Association of University Professors.”

    For the record, I generally come down on Alison’s side for this one, but just to flag that this is very much an unsettled issue.

    1. Engineer Girl*

      If you value your own freedom to make choices then you should also give it to the student.

      To do otherwise is to force your choices on the student. That’s not acedemic freedom.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Declining to offer a recommendation does not force choices on the student. It certainly puts the student at a partial disadvantage, and there is certainly a power imbalance that can be coercive. But declining to offer a recommendation does not force the student to forego the internship—it forces the student to find a different recommender.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          The OP is certainly limiting choices to the student. That’s especially true if the OP teaches classes most likely to influence the jobs (this isn’t mentioned so we can’t tell).
          The point is the OP has been given full freedom about which choices they support but is trying to limit the freedom of others. I see it as hypocrisy.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think there’s a misperception of the role of professors in giving recommendations. OP is not trying to limit their students’ freedom—OP is declining to provide a recommendation, which is common and within a professor’s discretion. It certainly may create additional work for the student, but it doesn’t limit the student’s ability to pursue their views or career choices.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                But that’s not the situation, here—this is not a slippery slope. This student has a high likelihood of being able to identify another faculty member who is willing to provide a recommendation. In my experience, most professors are willing to provide recommendations unless the recommendation sought is for activities that are abhorrent to that professors on a very core level. I think the student is likely to find a strong, substitute recommender. I would tell OP to even consider offering to write a letter for something more traditional, like graduate/professional school applications, academic scholarships, etc.

                I understand why people disagree with me—it feels wrong, on a gut level, to only offer support if a student’s professional choices correspond with your personal political beliefs. It also feels coercive because of the power imbalance between professors and students. But recommendations are unlike almost any other common job function that professors undertake, and having the discretion/authority to decline to provide a recommendation is an important protection for profssors.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  The problem is that many universities skew left in their belief systems. The minute you start basing recommendations on politics Vs performance you will also skew who can or can’t get jobs.
                  If the university were an equal distribution of belief systems then I would agre with you. But realistically, it will be harder for a conservative student to get recommendations than a liberal one. That becomes discrimination based on beliefs instead of actions.

                  Kind of like the JW worker discussion last week.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  This situation is different, imo, because it’s a Catholic university. Although even at liberal campuses, “left” professors are often willing to write letters for students with divergent political beliefs. Oftentimes the dividing line is something very specific, and even then, very few professors are willing to deal with the blowback of declining to provide a recommendation because it violates their conscience.

                3. professor*

                  In my experience as both a student and professor, students are NOT easily able to find other STRONG letter writers. Of course you can find a prof to write “Susie got an A in my class”, but that won’t be competitive. The degree of damage will vary; if the LW was not a strong letter then yeah, little harm. But, say, the letter write taught a key course or the student did research with them? that can literally sink an application.

                4. TL -*

                  professor is exactly right here. And depending on how well-regarded the professor is, it can be a huge hit to go from glowing recommendation from Professor Big Name to lukewarm recommendation from Professor Medium Name.

                  I definitely understand being careful about who you recommend but refusing a recommendation on a basis that isn’t the student and their quality of work can have a serious, if unintended, negative impact on the student.

                5. Celia Bowen*

                  But would you think this was ok if the organisation was, say, an LGBTQ advocacy one? Would you think it was ok to refuse then? No? It’s not ok now either.

                6. Casey*

                  It feels coercive because it is coercive. If you are using your position of power to control someone else’s career opportunities*, based on whether you agree with them or not rather than their academic achievement, that is coercive and you need to own that.

                  *And that is what this is – the power imbalance between students and professors is major, and depending on the student’s age and experience it’s possible that a professor may be one of the only references they have. (And there is a big difference between a reference from a professor who you’ve worked with closely and one who can just verify that you took their class – references are not created equal.)

                7. shep*

                  I went to a huge university for undergrad (which was another issue unto itself) with massive classes and professors who’d rather see grad students during office hours than undergrads (and I quite literally remember one or two professors saying at the beginning of the semester, “I don’t write letters of recommendation”), so I had a TEENY TINY pool of professors both (1) in my field and that (2) I knew well enough to ask for a letter of recommendation. One said no (and the other asked what I thought about him and if he graded fairly, so that definitely tells you something…).

                  Luckily my dream program only required two letters; ended up going with one professor (arguably the ONLY one who wrote me a decent letter, because I definitely peeked) and one acquaintance in the field. But yeah, it was incredibly nerve-wracking to have the one or two professors you know hem and haw or flat-out refuse to write you a letter. (In retrospect, I should’ve forced myself out of my comfort zone to really get to know my professors, but as a shy young woman working through what I now recognize were prolonged periods of depression, it was difficult (and I realize this is totally singular to my experience).)

                  Of course, it’s ultimately a professor’s choice whether to recommend or not recommend, but if the only reason OP is withholding recommending this student is a disagreement with the entity’s ideology and NOT the student’s ability (provided it’s, like Allison said, not a hate group or the like), I do think it can be problematic.

                8. Genny*

                  You don’t actually know that the student has a high likelihood of identifying another prof who can write an equally strong letter of recommendation. Maybe LW is “a name” that carries weight or holds a position that carries weight. Maybe the student is in a small program that only has a handful of professors and of those professors, only a couple really know her work well enough to write a strong recommendation. Maybe the internship application process requires a large number of letters of recommendation (it’s not uncommon for them to ask for three) and the student has already exhausted her network. Maybe the application requires a specific prof write at least one of the required letters of recommendation.

                  I can understand why this dilemma has given LW pause, but I don’t think it’s generally appropriate to decline to write a letter of recommendation because the org doesn’t align with your beliefs. You’re recommending the student, not the org. If you can’t in good conscious write a strong letter for the student because you don’t know their work or know their work isn’t up to snuff, by all means, decline. If you can recommend the student though, I think the average professor has an obligation to do so.

                9. Sunshine*

                  A recommendation is a gift not a right. It’s not a reference. A professor who gives you one is doing you a favour. If they are obligated to write them for all their students, surely they become meaningless?

                1. A freelance writer*

                  Exactly! That’s why anti-choice groups are similar to the white supremacist groups Alison says “of course” one doesn’t have to write recommendations for — they are actively working to deny people their rights.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              Historically, the prof declines recommendations based on student performance. The OP has stated that the student performance is excellent. There is no acedemic reason to decline.

              This is absolutely limiting the freedom of the student. A good recommendation absolutely influences a students ability to get an internship. Either their work and attitude deserve a positive recommendation or they don’t.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Whoa, that’s not true at all! You can decline a recommendation for all sorts of reasons, including a lack of adequate lead time to write an effective recommendation, the student’s failure to provide sufficient background materials, being out of country or out of area, having issues in your personal life that preclude your ability to timely submit a recommendation, etc., etc. I’ve written letters for students who were not as academically strong, and I’ve declined to write letters for “strong performers.” Again, no one deserves or is entitled to a recommendation. Are there social norms around when a person should provide a recommendation? Yes. But are those norms inviolate? No.

                It’s not at all limiting the “freedom” of the student, unless you’re defining freedom as “everyone has to support what I do.” Frankly, I’ve never been offered that kind of freedom, and I would find it surprising to expect that kind of freedom be afforded by virtue of one’s status as a student.

                1. Engineer Girl*

                  The student has fulfilled all reasonable requirements. The ONLY reason that they aren’t getting the recommendation is because of the OPs political beliefs.
                  This has nothing to do with the student. And that’s the problem.

                  The OP has violated social norms of freedom and fairness.

                2. TL -*

                  I think you work in a law school so maybe things are different there?
                  But in my academic field, you cannot really refuse for any reason whatsoever. You can refuse because you a) can’t speak strongly to the student’s work b) don’t know the student well enough c) are out on sabbatical/other long-term leave/have an emergency that prevents you from working or d) have a clear timeline that isn’t met or are asked to do something with <3-5 days' turnaround.
                  Your standards can be anything from "anyone who passes my class gets at least a form letter" to "I only write letters for students who were engaged in class and contributed meaningfully in both discussions and written work" but they're expected to be mostly consistent, though they'll probably get more stringent as your workload gets heavier and less so as it winds down.

                  And for c and to some extent d, you are absolutely expected to make exceptions for exceptional students.

                  I know professors who have heard that a student wasn't getting a rec and voluntarily stepped in to write (strong) letters of rec when they think their colleagues have unfairly refused to do so, even if their interactions with the students were comparatively minimal.

                  Also, academic fields are small and incestuous and word of mouth matters a lot. Students talk, postdocs talk, professors talk, research staff talk – violate the norms enough times and it'll have a major impact on your reputation.

                3. CheeryO*

                  I don’t think anyone is arguing that a professor is absolutely obligated to write a recommendation in all cases, but OP’s political beliefs shouldn’t be the only thing keeping her from writing one for this student. You said elsewhere that the student can just go and get a recommendation from another professor, but what if they don’t have the same relationship with their other professors? It’s not fair to the student to potentially take away a good recommendation based on politics and politics alone. (Also, I feel like this is a huge YMMV situation… at my university, it was all but an unwritten rule that a professor would write a letter if asked. It was literally part of the job description.)

                4. BluntBunny*

                  Yes I agree in the UK it isn’t routine to get a recommendation from a lecturer unless you are applying for a PhD or a academic position. The only time I have requested one was because I was applying for a placement in another country and the application requested it so I asked one of my lecturers who I thought would give me good one I think but if she didn’t have time I would ask someone else. It’s unrealistic to expect a letter for each student when there could be 200+ in a class. The university’s only obligation is to confirm the students course they are on and end date and they can provide a transcript of their results to date. A recommendation letter won’t hold much weight as they would only really see them for a few hours a week and a lot of the negative things would be omitted as they would feel they need to provide the best letter rather than the most accurate as universities are graded on graduate prospects. How a person is at university is usually not how they would act a work for example attire, punctuality and professional behaviour. I think a easy solution is to forward on to a another colleague that teaches the student saying you think they maybe able to provide a more enthusiastic recommendation letter given the organisation’s mission and that you would be happy to provide a similar letter for a different opportunity. Also I don’t know if this university has tutors that might also see the student more regularly we had year and personal tutors. I think it is fine for the OP to decline giving a recommendation for a Pro life org but not fine for them to decline to recommend someone who has pro life beliefs to a different org.

                5. Bleh*

                  You could absolutely say no to recommendations for a number of reasons. Academic freedom is in place for very good reasons, and there is nothing in our contracts that stipulates writing a letter for every student who asks.

                6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  @TL, it’s definitely possible that this is a distinction in our fields. Both at the undergrad and law school levels at my institution, professors are certainly expected to write letters as part of our service/teaching, but we’re given wide latitude to decline to write a recommendation. Most of us don’t exercise that ability, but it’s always there as a backstop. And of course there can be professional backlash from choosing not to write recommendations, but in my experience, that backlash falls harshest on junior faculty, women, and POC (and all intersections of those identities).

                  I’m sympathetic to the difficulty in finding another recommender. I went to a massive public university where it was extremely difficult to develop relationships (at the undergrad level) with professors who could later serve as recommenders.

                  I think OP’s decision is going to be fraught, and OP should be prepared for any backlash if they decline to write a letter.

            2. wow*

              Can you see though, that the OP is considering NOT extending to the student the very same courtesy that the University extends to her, which she has stated she appreciates? I don’t know if it’s hypocrisy, but I think it’s really tacky and ungenerous. I read somewhere, “As you reap, so shall you sow.”

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            That’s ok! You definitely don’t have to agree with me. I’m just offering a different perspective because this is an issue that comes up often in my job and with my colleagues. This issue is really fraught, and it’s more complex than simply saying, “You’re a professor; the student performed well; you’re obligated to provide a letter of rec.”

            Speaking personally, I would probably write the recommendation but be very candid with my student about my reservations about the specific organization (if appropriate). This comes up for me all the time in the context of letters for judicial clerkships. I will always write my student a letter for clerkships, but if they’re interested in clerking for a predatory judge (e.g., Alex Kozinski before his resignation), I talk to them about that ahead of time. I honestly don’t know how I would react in a situation where a student sought a recommendation for an organization whose beliefs violated my conscience.

      2. Traffic_Spiral*

        Uh… what? That’s like saying I’m forcing my choice on a restaurant by not leaving it a good yelp review. The student has unrestricted choice in where to apply. The organization has unrestricted choice of whom to hire. Refusing to help someone achieve their ends is not the same as stopping a person from doing a thing.

            1. Engineer Girl*

              It’s a straw man because restaurant recommendations are nothing like academic internship recommendations.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          Leaving a review is not part of the job of being a customer (mainly because being a customer is not a job).

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            1. Recommendations are not an obligation of teaching – the obligation to evaluate stops at grading. Recommending is entirely at-will.

            2. Even if it was, that still wouldn’t count as “taking a choice” or “forcing a choice” on someone else.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              Are you saying writing recommendations are *not* part of a professor’s job?

              I’m not saying any professor is obliged to write a recommendation for every student for every job/internship, but why punish a good student for their politics, when the clash here is not between the student’s views and those of the university, but rather it’s the OP who’s in an odd position (of their own doing) here?

            2. TL -*

              Recommendations are absolutely an obligation of being a professor. No academic got where they are without multiple people writing letters of recs for them and there is a very large expectation that you will write letters for people as letters were written for you.

              Refusing an obligation to a student that others think is deserving can have a major reputation hit.

              1. Mookie*

                The student isn’t an “academic” applying to an academic program. She’s job- and/or internship-searching. The distinction is meaningful because while academic references can carry some weight in those situations, applicants should focus on eliciting their strongest references from current or past employers, if they exist.

                I don’t understand how the absence of a specific instructor’s reference could harm an undergraduate’s reputation. If you’re talking about the LW’s reputation, I also don’t see how declining will become common knowledge.

                1. TL -*

                  The student asks another prof who declines and suggests that OP ask someone else (potentially specifically the OP, depending on if the student has done any independent work with her), the student responds, I asked OP – I have an A in her class, am always in her office hours with questions, she indicated I was doing well, but she declined, so I’m not sure what to do now.

                2. Mookie*

                  That, another reluctant instructor naming an alternate rather than letting the student figure it out because they know best which classes they took, sounds unlikely and convoluted. Also, that same prof is in the same boat, so why would the LW think this is damaging to her but, mysteriously, not to them?

                3. Kes*

                  Many students don’t have employers to give references though – a professor may be their best option, and there may be only a few professors that they’ve interacted with enough for them to be able to write a letter.

            3. Rock Prof*

              Recommendations are explicitly stated in my hiring and merit review paperwork. They are a required part of my job, though I do have discretion on who I write them for.

              1. Anna*

                And I think that’s the thing. I agree the OP should right the rec as long as the student is someone she feels is a good candidate based on their academic performance. I do not agree that a prof is required to write recs for each and every student who comes through asking for one.

                I think people are getting hung up on rights and requirements. Students don’t actually have a right to a recommendation otherwise a professor would be forced to write them for students they don’t think would do well in whatever thing they need the letter for. Professors DO have an obligation to write them when asked if the student has done well and the prof feels he or she can write an honest rec that won’t harm the student’s chances at whatever they’re trying to do. You are required to write them for deserving students, you are not required to write them for every student who asks.

      3. serenity*

        I think this is a unique situation and OP #1 has some thinking to do here about what writing a recommendation for a student means for her.

        But I want to chime in to say that when higher ed issues come up on AAM, 90% of comments are usually totally inaccurate (when it comes to FERPA issues, career services, the temperament of college professors, etc). This is no exception. Academic freedom is meant to apply to tenured faculty – not to students and staff. It has a complex history – I encourage people to Google it. But it actually does mean faculty have the freedom to say and do things unencumbered by what the administration or students want or what’s popular. That’s the whole point of it, actually. Whether you personally agree or not (as a student or staff member) is irrelevant.

        And one more point: are we sure OP#1 is faculty and not an administrator?

    2. Overeducated*

      I have read about that case, and I’m not entirely sure either of them is an “academic freedom.” Academic freedom means not being penalized for the content of your scholarship. Is it really something you can extend to any exercise of belief in the workplace? How far can the topic stretch from your scholarship before it’s something else? I’m not sure it’s an obvious bright line, but I’m not sure it’s an umbrella that covers everything either.

      I think sometimes refusals like some of these are better thought of as moral protests, where consequences may be part of the package for doing what you think is right, as in any other workplace.

      1. Smithy*

        I think this is a good way to put it. If I’m looking at the same case, the professor in question was punished – but not in censorship of their research, speaking or teaching.

        I think the case is a great one to examine because more broadly speaking this raises the question of how an employer will or will not defend you if a lot of negative attention comes your way. As this is a Catholic university, the OP has to consider how they might feel required to respond.

        This issue is one where a student could easily mobilize attention and visibility – and the OP should evaluate whether this is an ethical issue worthy of risking potential negative attention.

    3. Smithy*

      Should the OP opt not to write the letter of rec, I think that the case Sandy flags is a good one to help inform how the OP chooses to proceed. In addition to not exactly being a “settled” issue, given the sensitivity of the issue and high profile nature it was able to hit the news and become a very visible issue. And that then raises the question of the kind of capital the OP has to spend at work and whether the institution would be supportive.

      I believe in the case Sandy mentioned, that the professor in question was punished through the denial of a raise and sabbatical privileges. I am in no way speaking about the ethical issues at play – but in terms of what can happen to me at work – I think this provides some insight that if enough negative attention follows then disciplinary action may follow.

    4. Gloucesterina*

      Side topic – Based on the U-M administration’s response, I rather expect that they will develop a system wherein professors will file a generic boilerplate letter to a clearinghouse run by University administration that can be “vended” at the student’s request, much like a transcript produced at request by the registrar. This approach may diminish the value of letters of recommendation, but will be more convenient for consumers.

  3. Emily*

    I’m a professor and I went to a Catholic university for graduate school (where I taught undergraduates), and I will say this: you do not need to write a recommendation for a student for this pro-life organization. Simply say that you do not feel you can support them in pursuing this opportunity. Your job is to teach students to think critically, understand and make decision about (and based on) evidence and data, and enter the world as informed citizens. The pro-life movement pushes an agenda that defies our best medical and social science research about what is good for women, families, and communities. It often does so in deeply racist, misogynistic ways (so, not entirely far off from that white supremacist organization). These are all inconsistent with, say, Jesuit values of social justice and service. There are plenty of pedagogical reasons to decline to write this letter, and you should not feel obligated to do so.

    1. Greg NY*

      What you said carries a lot of weight given your position, but the student has chosen to apply for an internship with a pro-life organization, it wasn’t something forced on them. Shouldn’t the professor do what they can to help their students get ahead, in something the student wants to do, rather than allowing their own beliefs to get in the way? I say this as someone who is socially liberal.

      1. valentine*

        Your beliefs should get in the way. If the university provides vans so students can protest clinics, OP1 should not help with that.

        1. Thursday Next*

          I’m not sure this analogy holds—what could a professor do to help/hinder a student from getting on a van? More importantly, assisting a student with an off-campus protest is not typically a part of a professor’s service responsibilities, while writing letters of recommendation is.

          1. Corey*

            “what could a professor do to help/hinder a student from getting on a van?

            Provide a van, procure a van, drive a van, gas a van, and on and on and on.

        2. wow*

          If the university does that and OP is outraged by it, she simply should not be working for the university. She should not undermine its students by working there yet refusing to provide a rec for a student who deserves one.

      2. Autumnheart*

        No. I wouldn’t support a student who went on to join an organization that actively seeks to cause harm. I’d say the hairsplitting of “they don’t actually lie to clients, spread misinformation about sexual education, seek to make abortion and birth control as inaccessible as possible, or harass people outside clinics–they just support the organizations who do” justifies acting in opposition to one’s own moral code.

        If professors aren’t obligated to provide *every* student with a recommendation, then they’re not obligated to provide *any* student with an obligation. Clearly the professor has room to decline for other reasons, and “I don’t want to be professionally associated with an organization I find morally objectionable” is just as valid. After all, this is their reputation on the record. What if the professor recommended this student, and the student DID go on to work for organizations that do have platforms that are racist, misogynistic, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBTQA, etc. as their mission? I wouldn’t want to be professionally associated with such a person, or such an organization, no way.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree with Emily that OP does not have an obligation to write a recommendation for a pro-life organization. Professors don’t have an obligation to write anyone a recommendation, ever.

      Although the situation OP has described is a fraught area and a topic of debate in the academy right now, recommendations fall within the scope of academic freedom. I personally believe profs should generally support students in their development, but imo, it’s reasonable to decline to write a recommendation if it would support an organization that goes against one’s conscience. I suspect other professors at OP’s Catholic university would feel similarly about providing a recommendation for an internship with NARAL.

      If OP turns down a recommendation for reasons of conscience, however, I do think OP should suggest other ways for the student to obtain an appropriate recommendation from another recommender. And be prepared for backlash—this is a really tricky area, and it’s a fine line to ride.

      1. Emily*

        I also wanted to add that abortion is my primary area of research, and one that I pursued at a Catholic university, where I had the absolute backing of my department and regularly taught about reproduction (and abortion) in my courses. I would not have written this letter (for the reasons I gave above), and I would be surprised if anyone in my graduate department would. The Catholic church is not a monolith when it comes to abortion (Catholics get abortions at exactly the same rate as members of any other religion — and while they aren’t the institution itself, they are the community), and academic freedom is held to a very high standard. It will depend on the school, but backlash is not a foregone conclusion in this situation. For other commenters suggesting the OP might be fired? Absolutely not if they’re tenured; almost certainly not, regardless.

        1. TL -*

          And a student who asked you to write a letter of rec for this organization should probably get a lesson in using professional judgment about who they ask for what. (Not to mention the organization itself would probably be less than impressed.)

          But in terms of a professor who teaches and researches an entirely unrelated subject, that’s not the same as asking you.

        2. Not Australian*

          Without wanting to get too deeply into arguments on either side of this, something a staunchly Catholic friend of mine said yesterday seems appropriate. She was telling me about a conversation she’d had with her 14 year old grandson where she’d asked him who or what was the highest authority in the Catholic church that should always be obeyed. He’d snapped right back and said “The Pope.” “No,” said my friend. “Your own conscience.” My take from this is that if someone wants you to act against your conscience, no matter how powerful they may seem to be nor how strong their reasoning, your conscience is the one you should really be listening to.

          1. JoAnna*

            But you are to follow your own properly-formed conscience, and anyone who does not support human rights for all human beings, born or unborn, does not have a properly-formed conscience per Catholic teaching.

            It’s like somebody who supports, say, killing all illegal immigrants and claiming they are just following their conscience.

            1. Emily Spinach*

              Even lifelong Catholics are going to disagree about what that means, though. There are roughly a billion Catholics, and they (we) very clearly disagree about how our religious principles should be applied to governmental policy and personal action.

          2. Ann Perkins*

            That’s not how Catholic authority works – there’s a huge emphasis placed on your conscience, but to the extent that a Catholic has educated themselves and sought a decision to the best of their ability in line with Catholic teaching. There are matters where we have to use our best prudential judgment – say, a tricky situation like how best to help an alcoholic parent without enabling them. Then there are black and white teachings that a Catholic should not willfully disobey – to use an easy example, do not murder.

        3. Turquoisecow*

          I know quite a few liberal Catholics, just fwiw. I also know quite a few who support a woman’s right to choose while still going to church every week. It’s not as black and white as a lot of people think.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            “It’s not as black and white as a lot of people think.”
            It’s the church doctrines that give that impression to us non-Catholics. They seem way too absolute and completely out of touch.

          2. EOA*

            This is 100% true – not only is not black and white among liberal Catholics, it is not black and white among conservative Catholics. There are a number of liberal Catholics who support the legal right to abortion while still having moral qualms about the practice and there are some conservative Catholics who believe in that life begins at conception while also recognizing that a total ban on abortions is unworkable and dangerous.

      2. pleaset*

        “Professors don’t have an obligation to write anyone a recommendation, ever.”

        I would love colleges and universities to put this in their student recruiting info. If you’re a professor, I hope you are very upfront about it – perhaps put it in your syllabus.

        1. Emily Spinach*

          I get the impression that my students already know this? They ask for a letter (I teach mostly first year students, so often they ask without nearly enough notice!), seem to feel that they’re asking a huge imposition and it’s ok if I say no etc etc, and I almost always do it anyway because they’re new and they’re learning and I suspect I’m the teacher they know best. But somehow in learning about how the process works, they do seem to already know it’s not REQUIRED that any specific faculty member will be able to do it at any time.

        2. Sunshine*

          I’m really confused by the idea that students feel entitled to letters of recommendation. A huge part of their value is that they are something you have earned, whether through work or social nous. If every student is entitled to one, what’s the point?

    3. JamieS*

      So basically someone should arrive at the same conclusion you have or they aren’t thinking critically? Being pro-life doesn’t preclude someone from being able to think critically on the subject.

      1. Emily*

        Removed; see below. I know it’s tough to debate the letter writer’s question without arguing about the issue itself, but I’m asking that we strive for that. Otherwise I’ll need to close debate on the letter entirely since I’m not going to host a debate about abortion or reproductive freedom here. – Alison

        1. Emily*

          Hi Alison! I’m wondering why my reply was removed, but not Jamie’s comment that it was in response to? I stayed very focus on what values as a professor and an academic at play. If we’re not debating, that’s fine — but I think I shouldn’t be the only one cut off here.

            1. Emily*

              I gave reasons — as an academic and an educator — why one would be justified in declining a letter. If part of your job as a researcher and professor is to further knowledge, and the vast majority of scientifically accumulated knowledge suggests a clear conclusion, how is it making an argument for or against abortion to point that out? If a environmental scientist had a student who wanted a marketing internship on a Clean Coal campaign, and said scientist said “No, this flies in the face of everything science tells us about what is good for the earth, and as your teacher I cannot support you in pursuing this work” and then an internet commenter said “Oh, so people who disagree with you aren’t thinking critically?” How could one respond to that question *without* pointing to the science? The question is inherently argumentative.

              The argument for abortion access is not beside the point here. This is not a mere ethical or religious belief that the LW disagrees with; in that case, they would have no reason to decline a letter. Only if it is understood as a failure of critical analysis and a triumph of misinformation does it the LW have a role, as an educator, to decline the recommendation.

              1. wow*

                Think about how many people you are consigning to being incapable of critical thinking if you decide that everyone who is pro-life is not thinking critically. Another possibility is that you are simply not acknowledging the complexity of this issue, one reason for the complexity being that morals and ethics are not determined by science, at least, not to probably the vast majority of people. So you saying, “there’s nothing to debate here, it’s already been scientifically determined, everyone must agree with me or they’re not critical thinkers” is not actually very helpful to the conversation or your side of it. As someone else mentioned, science is only a tool. Data still have to be interpreted — and interpretation is subjective, and hence there will be variability.

          1. Celia Bowen*

            Your reply was an opinion on the debate about being pro or anti-choice.

            Jamie’s reply isn’t.

            1. Emily*

              The exact point is that it wasn’t an opinion. It was actual, evidence-based fact — that’s the reason (and the only reason) an educator would have a legitimate cause to decline.

              1. Celia Bowen*

                You couldn’t just say “I feel there are strong reasons not to support anti-choice organisations” without going into what they are?

              2. Amberlyn*

                Some of the questions involved in the abortion debate have concrete answers that can be approached scientifically (What policies are associated with lower rates of crime/domestic violence/suicide, for example) and others do not (when does life begin and, if a fetus qualifies as living, what value does that life hold, etc.) If you feel your student has misunderstood the scientific data, it seems reasonable as their professor for you to point them toward those findings. However, when it comes to deciding which policy is the best to take, personal values and beliefs must be a part of that decision. I say this as a scientist; right and wrong fall outside the bounds of research. Humans decide what they believe is right. Scientific research is simply a tool we use to act on those decisions.

                With that in mind, I believe the most ethical choice is to either write the letter of recommendation or steer the student toward another professor whose recommendation would hold equal weight. The student’s request may make the LW question their values or priorities, but it does not indicate an inability to think critically.

      2. Mookie*

        Being pro-life doesn’t preclude someone from being able to think critically on the subject.

        I’m not sharing my opinion about this statement in order to abide by the belowthread rules, but I’m curious why Alison thinks white supremacists, many of whom reject that label for obvious reasons, aren’t in the habit of rationalizing (however ineptly) their own deeply-held beliefs or, rather, why we shouldn’t be expected to suffer them gladly and entertain their delusions.

        Surely the measure and constraining of our tolerance isn’t determined by how and with what fancy words and internal ‘logic’ others express their ideologies.

      3. The future just got a little dimmer*

        That is what she is saying exactly. This is not someone teaching people to think, she is teaching people to think what she thinks and anything outside of that will not be allowed. Its a sad thought that someone with views like this is out there passing themselves off as educators, and being tenured in to teach for years to come.

      1. Phil*

        You seem to have missed a couple… such as the one that basically says pro-lifers are racist, misogynistic white supremacists…

        1. Felicity Smoak*

          As this is Alison’s platform she’s welcome to do whatever she wishes with the posts…

          … however I was extremely disappointed – nay, repulsed – to see such hateful rhetoric on that comment you referenced. I hope it’s an oversight, otherwise it’s a disturbing double standard.

          1. Myrin*

            Alison isn’t on here 24/7 and if I got the American timezones correctly, it’s actually nighttime or early morning for her right now; in fact, with the five questions post, you can often see her interact in the comments when the post had just gotten up (because she’s still up) and then not for several hours because she’s, well, sleeping.

          2. Jo*

            Emily’s rhetoric wasn’t hateful in the slightest.

            She also did not say that all pro-lifers are racist/misogynistic white supremacists, and you know that, so the disingenuous warping and twisting of her words really comes across as very emotionally dishonest.

            1. Dot Warner*

              She compared pro-lifers to white supremacists. Those are her actual words. I’m disgusted that she said it and I’m disappointed in Alison for allowing it to stay up.

              1. Myrin*

                Alison doesn’t live on this website – the fact that she hasn’t yet intervened in any of the threads here which got more, well, “lively”, probably means that she hasn’t been online again yet.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yep. And even when I am online, I don’t see everything. There are 500+ comments on this thread and I’m unlikely to read them all. I respond to what I see and what gets flagged for me, but otherwise I don’t read everything and I have other stuff I’m doing.

    4. Traffic_Spiral*

      Hm. Maybe a compromise where you tell the student “if I write this, the first paragraph is going to be about how awful I think they are [insert above reasons you gave] but that you are a good student, so… decide if you want this.”

      1. Celia Bowen*

        Would you give this advice to a homophobe who didn’t want to write a recommendation for someone applying to an LGBTQ rights organisation? No? Exactly.

        1. Traffic_Spiral*

          Of course I would. Why not? I mean, I wouldn’t ask the homophobe in the first place, but if I did, yeah, I’d expect “I don’t agree with your group but so-and-so is a smart student” to be pretty reasonable.

          1. ket*

            I would too, honestly. Not a whole paragraph, but one sentence at the beginning or the end — sure. I’m not saying anything here about abortion or homophobia or Clean Coal, to be clear!

            “In full disclosure, I do not support the mission of your group. However, Janelle is an excellent student who has showed a great capacity for critical inquiry in…”

            or at the end,
            “…In short, I enthusiastically recommend Janelle for any position requiring quantitative analysis and ***blah blah**. To be honest, I disagree with the premise of your group and wish she would direct her energies (elsewhere), but she’s extremely capable and I support her in her professional and academic development.”

            1. wow*

              Then you would be wrong to do so if you don’t let the student know that’s what you would be doing. We all need to remember that what comes around goes around. OP was treated well by her PROLIFE university letting her do what she wants — she should pass it on.

          2. JamieS*

            Saying you’re going to write about how awful you think the group is gives a significantly different impression than saying you’ll be forthcoming about not agreeing with them and isn’t reasonable.

        2. LilianCat*

          You are using a bad analogy because you are assuming that being a homophobe and being pro-choice are morally equivalent. They’re not. Someone who writes a letter where they don’t want to recommend someone to an LGBTQ organization needs to sternly hear encouragement to get their values back in order because they are wrong.

          1. TL -*

            I think Amberlyn said it better – but while you can absolutely point to public health stats and research/outcomes to answer and address many of the points in social debates, people do have morals and values that come from other sources and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s definitely not something we can change; it is how people work.
            There are people who think that being a homophobe and being pro-choice are morally equivalent or that being pro-choice is worse. You don’t, but I think there’s space for acknowledging that other people have different morals and values while also acknowledging the harm specific policies cause.

            1. Anna*

              This is both-sideism and it is not valid. Protesting something that limits a person’s rights is not the same as protesting something that doesn’t. They are not morally equivalent.

        3. Alton*

          I don’t know….I think with student recommendations, the main point is to talk about the student, which is theoretically something you can do regardless of what the recommendation is for. I
          But if someone has a belief or bias that could be a conflict of interest or influence their recommendation, I don’t think disclosing that is a *bad* thing. I think it could be out of place in the letter itself, but it might be helpful for the student to know. I think what the OP needs to think about, though, is 1) whether disclosing their beliefs could hurt them professionally and 2) whether they are in fact unable to give an unbiased recommendation.

        4. IT geek*

          The difference is that pro-LGBT groups aren’t trying to deny me my basic rights. Anti-choice groups are.

          1. Anonymous for this*

            Look, people have a wide variety of opinions on abortion. Just as pro-choice rhetoric paints the pro-life movement as taking away the rights of women, the pro-life movement believes the rights of the unborn are being taken away. What you’re saying with this argument, though, is that only left-leaning professors and organizations get to claim the moral high ground when dealing with this issue.

            1. Sunshine*

              No, the difference is that there are no circumstances in which campaigning for the human rights of LGBT people hurts another group.

              1. Phil*

                Better tell that to all the Christian business owners who are being sued into oblivion for trying to exercise their right to freedom of religion. I don’t think they got the memo.

                1. Sunshine*

                  Nobody – at least in the U.K. – has the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Their choice to break the law isn’t excused by their religious beliefs. And being held to account for hurting other people and breaking the law is not ‘being harmed by LGBT rights’.

        5. Sunshine*

          Can I ask why you think these circumstances are equivalent? Having an ethical stance and having an irrational, hateful prejudice are not remotely the same.

    5. Oscar Jeff*

      This is a bit of a slippery slope argument, but I wonder how comfortable you would be if, say, a professor who was staunchly pro-life at a Catholic uni where the vast majority of faculty and students were also pro-life declined to write a recommendation for a student who wished to work at a pro-choice org. I absolutely agree that professors have the right to decline to write recommendations, but if it was me I would not want to use my right in such a way as to contribute to a situation where students who held a minority view on campus were systematically disadvantaged as to pursuing work in line with their beliefs. Or really, I just wouldn’t want to make agreeing with me politically the litmus test for students receiving a recommendation from me.

      But I suppose it partially depends on whether one respects others holding opposing views. On abortion, I have no problem respecting that people will hold different views and therefore would not have an issue providing recs for students who want to work on either side. On the white supremacy example, I absolutely do not respect certain views on the subject and therefore would not have any qualms about declining to write a recommendation to a white supremacist org. So it may still come down to line-drawing on what views one finds too abhorrent, but I would just hope that professors be very careful with their power when doing that line-drawing. Because it can be very easy to begin seeing fairly mainstream political views as illegitimate when you’re in an environment in which your view is in the majority.

      1. Mookie*

        With respect to your hypothetical, I’d probably appreciate an instructor declining to provide the rec if they can’t articulate and speak passionately (to my personal liking) in favor of the mission of the org I’d like to intern with. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility as a hiring manager / intern coordinator to check the bona fides of the referees and see how involved they are or aren’t in the relevant activism. This student is spoiled for choice in that respect, given the university’s community.

      2. Mobuy*

        “Or really, I just wouldn’t want to make agreeing with me politically the litmus test for students receiving a recommendation from me.”

        This? This is beautiful and it’s how I would hope all professors would feel.

      3. media monkey*

        personally, i wouldn’t work at an organisation (say a catholic university – it is so weird to have a university associated with a religion from a UK point of view as we just don’t have that here that i am aware of!) that didn’t align with my beliefs. however having chosen to do so, i wouldn’t refuse a reference to a student applying somewhere that aligned with the beliefs of the institution paying my salary.

        1. Anna*

          University Church of St. Mary is literally where University of Oxford grew from. There is very little difference.

      4. Sunshine*

        If I were at a Catholic university I wouldn’t expect my professor to write me a recommendation for a pro choice org. If I were at a regular university and my professor was anti choice and told me they couldn’t write me a recc on that basis I would understand and ask someone else.

      5. Sunshine*

        With respect to your views on both sides issue; I have no problem respecting other people’s views. I do think it changes when they are actively campaigning. Holding personal views and seeking to limit the rights of others are two extremely different things imo.

    6. Not Until after Christmas*

      I strongly disagree. Pro choice woman here, but I don’t think all pro lifers (or pro birthers as I like to refer to them) are akin to white supremacists.

    7. Joielle*

      This is an extremely relevant perspective – thank you for sharing it! As someone not in academia, my sense is that it’s a very unique setting, none of us on the outside really understand all the considerations in play, and we can’t give useful advice. I think OP should listen to you and the other professors who have commented – ultimately, those are the only helpful comments.

  4. ES*

    Re: #1: In a pluralistic society, I hope we can all be willing to support individuals while acknowledging disagreements about moral and ethical values. The LW says she’s a good student; presumably the student would do a good job for this organization the LW disagrees with. That’s an easy letter to write, and it might actually make a compelling case.

    I actually had a socialist professor write me a letter of reference for a GOP White House internship many years ago. She wrote (to paraphrase): “I completely disagree with your policy agenda, but ES is a fine young man and as much as it pains me to say it, he will do a great job helping you undo the things I care about.” I got the internship and my supervisor told me it was in part because I had shown how I could build a good working relationship with someone despite a political disagreement.

    Finally, a comment to the LW: imagine if your university took the same position you want to take with your student. The Catholic Church is a pro-life organization. The university is taking an open and pluralistic stance by hiring non-Catholic, pro-choice faculty. Writing a letter for a student interning at a pro-life group would be an extension of that generosity and spirit of pluralism.

    1. ES*

      I should add — my socialist prof was a wonderful teacher and had a great sense of humor. It was an honor to be recommended by her.

      1. CC*

        It really depends on the organization to me. For example, I would 100% write a letter so a student could intern for a GOP Congressman, but I would not write a letter for a student to work for an organization that say, lied to pregnant women and said that abortions cause breast cancer. I would also write a letter for a student to encourage less abortions through sex ed and more access to birth control. I don’t know what kind of organization the OP is referring to, but the first type is unfortunately very common.

        That being said, I probably would just tell the student, “Oh I’m really busy these next few weeks, maybe ask someone else” and not mention my reasons directly. If it’s a bright student, they’ll shy away from anyone who isn’t enthusiastic about giving a recommendation.

        1. valentine*

          I would 100% write a letter so a student could intern for a GOP Congressman, but I would not write a letter for a student to work for an organization that say, lied to pregnant women and said that abortions cause breast cancer.
          For me, there’s no difference. Also no difference between a white supremacist org and an antiabortion org. I wouldn’t help someone work for the US military or Shell, either.

          The student doing a good job for the org is the worst-case scenario.

          1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

            Agreed, no difference for me either. Not one bit.

            Don’t know if it would help OP, but I would politely refuse and wish them luck. I would not specify what I would wish them luck with, but they will be wished lots of luck from me. I believe in supporting people but not at the expense of those who are more vulnerable.

            Sorry, OP. Sounds like a tough position to be put in.

            1. I woke up like this*

              I know I said above I would likely write the letter in certain circumstances, but I also agree with Lady Ariel Ponyweather’s stance here. It’s totally acceptable and fine to decline to write the letter, LW 1.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Are you a professor? This seems like one of those “understand the job requirements before you take a job that requires writing letters of recommendation” rules.

            I’m thinking of someone who went to school for science in Houston, looking for an internship or post-grad job, and if their science professor wouldn’t write recommendations for any of the energy companies, or the government (NASA, various labs), or… Even if they DID have a list of three small nonprofits they had judged sufficiently deserving, to which they would write letters.

          3. JSPA*

            Flip the scenario. I’m very pro-choice (have spent many early saturday mornings doing clinic defense, and I’m not a morning person). However, when I think about one of my good pro-choice student being denied a reference by her trusted professor because said professor is “pro-life”–I see that as a deep unfairness TO THE STUDENT.

            The opposite is also a deep unfairness TO THE STUDENT. I do think it’s fair to say to the student that I’d prefer to see them doing something “more broadly applicable.” Or even that I’m “not a fan of the organization in question / have personal reservations about the social impact of the organization in question”; that this could limit my ability to explain how the student is ideal for the organization, and that the reference is therefore likely to be more generally about the student’s general excellence, not her excellence for that particular job. She can then weigh whether she wants my generalized good reference, or a possibly weaker but more specifically-targeted reference from someone else.

            But refusing to write one at all on ideological grounds is generally wrong, unless you feel a student is not qualified. (I have had to tell students that.) Giving fair, unbiased, thoughtful references for students is not something optional, nor is it done for the sake of the employer; they’re part and parcel of the duties of teaching.

        2. Celia Bowen*

          I don’t think anyone benefits if you brush people off in such a passive aggressive way. That’s not modelling anything useful for anyone involved.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s not passive aggressive to say you’re really busy for the next few weeks. It’s a social nicety that lets the student down gently without alienating them from seeking future recommendations (which OP may be willing to provide).

            1. TL -*

              Except students will generally intuit that “busy for the next few weeks” is BS, especially if the student’s request came in according to the professor’s guidelines (many profs say that they need it X amount of time before the deadline to consider writing; some have it written in their syllabus.)

              So it is passive aggressive and it does do a disservice to the students. If you decline to write a letter of rec, you should be very clear (and honest) about why: don’t know the student well enough, can’t speak well to the strength of their work, not enough time before the deadline, or in this case don’t agree with organization’s mission (though I agree that it’s not a great reason given the circumstances)

              1. Just Employed Here*

                Yeah, I think it would already be hypocritical not to write a reference (for the reasons other have stated here already), but then not to be honest about one’s reason for it?!

                That’s nothing to do with social niceties. It’s dishonest towards both the student, possible future students in the same position, and the employer (who may want to have their say in this — see the linked to story about the University of Michigan).

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              My kid was applying for grad schools and fellowships, and this is not remotely how “Golly I guess I’m going to be busy for a few weeks and can’t recommend you” would have landed from one of her core discipline professors.

              1. Genny*

                I just graduated from grad school and spent the last year applying to various fellowships. I feel your child’s pain. I would be absolutely livid if my professors did this (assuming I met all their requirements for writing a recommendation). I’d also be livid if there was a broad swathe of fellowships/employers they just don’t write letters of recommendation for because they disagree with the missions. You’d better believe I would be complaining to anyone in the administration who would listen and blasting that information far and wide to any prospective students. Getting a spot in grad school or getting a competitive fellowship/internship/job is hard enough without professors deciding they only write recommendations for the student who think exactly like them.

                1. Emily Spinach*

                  Even if someone gets me their information early, it’s possible for a faculty member to be too busy to fit it in. That’s how work sometimes goes. I’ve never had that happen–since I’m mostly writing letters for first-year college students, I tend to be able to write fairly short ones based on what they tend to be applying to (study abroad, their majors, campus jobs). But if a student came to me at a busy time and asked and I said, “I’m so sorry, but I’m on a deadline for article revisions and have all your midterms to grade this week as well, and I won’t be able to get to this,” that would be totally “allowed” within the parameters of my job as instructional faculty at a university.

            3. wow*

              It’s lying. You call it a “social nicety” to make yourself feel better, but it’s not being nice to the other person, so it’s not really a nicety.

            4. Michio Pa*

              No, a social nicety would be saying you’re busy when the student asks you about your political beliefs. If the OP is going to refuse to write this recommendation for no reason other than they object to the mission of the organization, they owe it to their student to tell them the reason why. Otherwise how is the student supposed to know they can ask again for recommendations, as long as it’s to an organization OP approves of (which, how would the student know)?

        3. Bulbasaur*

          I have been mulling this question in my head and I’ve found that I would feel better about refusing to give the reference if I made it about the organization rather than the student. For example:

          “I don’t give any references for organization X [add reasons if you like]. I’ll be happy to give you a reference for other employers if you like.”

          If you’d say the same for any student, but vary it based on the employer, then it’s not really about the student, but about you. You have a right to refuse to aid particular organizations in their job search process based on your personal beliefs. The only question is whether a student has a right and/or expectation for you to give a reference that trumps that, which is where academic policy enters the question (see discussion upthread for a long form treatment). If it was clearly and unambiguously part of your job, then you’d have to do it anyway (or if you felt really strongly, you’d have a difficult decision to make). If it’s not, then it comes down to how you rate the two transgressions in a relative sense (aiding an organization you disapprove of vs. denying the student a reference in this specific case). That’s a personal judgement call.

          I’m not sure how I would answer this one in practice, although I think I would probably lean towards giving the reference, because I would feel there was a risk that the student would experience refusal as taking away their right to make an informed decision, which would ultimately harm my cause (I see evidence in the discussion so far that some people would take it this way). I can also imagine variations that would tip me one way or the other (e.g. if student was applying to join a cult or cult-like organization where I would have concerns for their health or safety).

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            This seems to have the potential to go quite wrong–I’m picturing a school where you must take Professor Q’s Ruminant Grooming Course to get your degree in ruminants, but Professor Q only writes letters of recommendation for those who apply for llama-grooming positions, not alpaca-grooming positions. It’s not as simple as “Well just ask your English professor to recommend you for the ruminant grooming position, and hope to heck they don’t only write recommendations for people who are going to study Chaucer.”

            I doubt the school would prominently feature this in their program information: “Warning: We can only steer you into jobs with llama groomers, because Professor Q doesn’t like alpacas. So bear that in mind before writing a tuition check.” It would be a lovely late surprise for people who can’t easily change course now.

            1. Bulbasaur*

              On further reflection, I think if I felt the student shouldn’t apply for a particular role I’d just try talking to them about it. Withholding a reference seems like an unnecessarily blunt instrument that doesn’t really address the underlying concern. Plus it has an element of “I’m right, you’re wrong, end of story” that doesn’t sit well with me in an academic context. Presumably this student is capable of listening to opposing views and taking them into consideration, so why not try that? (And if they aren’t capable of that, why am I writing a reference for them in the first place?)

              That would go for opting out for personal reasons as well. “I’ll give you a reference if you really want, but my parents were trampled to death by alpacas when I was a child and now even thinking about them gives me nightmares. Could you perhaps ask someone else just for this one?”

            2. Sunshine*

              Except the bit where alpaca grooming isn’t a hugely controversial profession that would require the professor to violate their conscience. I feel like people are acting like this is a brand of cookies OP dislikes. This isn’t a personal preference, it’s a moral quandary.

      2. Engineer Girl*

        Your socialist prof was a wellspring of integrity. The letter shows a perfect balance of supporting her own values at the same time supporting the student.

    2. nnn*

      imagine if your university took the same position you want to take with your student.

      This is a really good thought experiment, and I think LW should run through it thinking of various times they themselves have needed letters of reference. What would have happened to you if your potential references at various points throughout your career had refused to do so because they didn’t support Catholic organizations, or secular organizations, or any stance of conscience that could be applied to any organization you’ve worked for in the past?

      1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

        So this gave me something to think about! I feel like if one of my former coworkers declined being a recommendation for my current position because of ABC reasons they disagree with the Catholic church, I probably would have (a) felt defensive and found excuses for why I want the job (“I know, I also disagree with ABC, but working with DACA students is a passion area of mine and has nothing to do with ABC!”) but also (b) thanked them for being honest and found someone else for letting me know.

        That said, I also have more professional/life experience than this student, and I STILL would have felt a little defensive. Thanks for this perspective, it’s something for me to consider as I think through how to approach this with my student!

    3. Oscar Jeff*

      Your professor was truly a role model. I hope that I would show such grace and generosity if ever in a similar situation.

      I commented above offering a similar thought experiment with the roles reversed. I think having had the experience of being a minority view on campus probably makes one more wary of professors gatekeeping recommendations based on politics/ideology.

    4. EOA*

      I wrote a recommendation for an intern who applied to a certain presidential administration. I am a staunch liberal and I didn’t write it specifically to that internship but as a “to whom it may concern.”

      My former intern is smart and thoughtful and I told him that I don’t love the fact he’s working for that administration. But I want him to succeed, so I did it.

      1. Mookie*

        In my mind, one of the salient points in your experience (addressing an unspecified recipient), is that letters of rec can be customized in several directions, speaking knowledgeably about the student but also lightly tailoring the letter’s content to the organization or program itself, often with a lot of assistance from the applicant to fill in those blanks and expand on the relevant experience and skills listed on the CV. So the student should be given a heads-up about this LW’s misgivings and perhaps seek a better reference, in this sense, from another, more able party.

        1. EOA*

          I agree that it would be okay for the professor to give a head’s up, though I will also say that a reference letter for a job is different than say a reference letter for a grad school application. The professor in question could write a general recommendation letter for her student that isn’t specifically about this job.

          Of course, that would not address how she’d react to a phone reference but my experience is that it is rare for phone references to take place with internships.

    5. Lora*

      I’m sort of amazed by this. When I was in college AND grad school (granted, dinosaurs roamed the earth and we walked to university in ten feet of snow uphill both ways etc etc), any letters of recommendation were given to you not only because you were a good student, but also because the professor especially liked you, you had done exceptionally well in their class, had worked on independent study with them, and they would be able to speak well of you in a way that was specifically relevant to the person they would be recommending you for. Professors often refused to provide recommendation letters for students they didn’t feel were making the best career decisions ever:

      -Students going to work in industry when the professor felt you should be applying to an academic postdoc and that going to industry was “wasting your potential”
      -Students applying for academic postdocs, but with someone the recommending professor had a personal grudge against
      -Students applying for grad schools the professor had a professional rivalry with
      -Students applying for grad school that the professor felt were Beneath Them (i.e. State University as opposed to Ivy League / MIT)
      -Students who were perfectly competent in terms of grades and creating good science, but the professor had a personality clash with them
      -Students who were currently employed by a specific company at which the professor had failed to get a job despite several attempts
      -Students who had reported the professor’s beer buddy for harassment
      -Students who, during their PhD rotations, had eventually selected another professor for their adviser although they kept this one for their committee
      …And so on. Nobody owed a letter of recommendation for ANYTHING. If you were bringing in the grant money, you could flat out murder a student in the quad with your bare hands and 1000 witnesses, and they’d probably shrug and toss the body in the river and there’d be at least ten of your colleagues saying, “you can’t fire him, he has tenure!”

      Has college changed all THAT much? I tend to think the people claiming, “if the politics were reversed people would be up in arms!” haven’t had to go begging for very many academic letters of recommendation.

      1. Genny*

        I can only speak to my corner of the world (government/international relations), but the level of competitiveness for internships/fellowships is unreal, especially for programs that convert you into the civil service. I recently got a fellowship position that over 6,000 people applied for. The fellowship only accepted a couple hundred. When only about 6% of applicants get accepted, things can get pretty cutthroat. Refusing to write a letter of recommendation for a non-academic, non-logistics reason wouldn’t go over very well with students (who are paying a lot of money almost solely for the influence the school has) or the administration (who rely on getting students into the most prestigious fellowships/internships/jobs to recruit more students and improve their ranking).

        1. Lora*

          Must be field dependent then. The programs I have experience with were all STEM – generally students are paid to be in the program via a TA-ship or RA-ship or some external fellowship, they don’t pay their own money. They are very extremely cutthroat, for sure, getting into Carnegie-Mellon for a PhD or postdoc means you’re in the top 0.5% of applicants, but unless your parents are personally funding a professor’s $5M grant, you’re not going to get any particular consideration. Most of the department funding comes from Tech Transfer (i.e. licensing patents and intellectual property generated by the faculty), private grant foundations outside the university (e.g. Gates Foundation) or the federal government, and that’s really all that matters to them. Paying $100k in tuition or whatever wouldn’t mean a darn thing to a STEM department, that’s pennies to them. In the bigger labs, asking the PI to write you a letter of recommendation even after years of doing research in their lab has a non-trivial chance of getting a blank stare and “who are you, again?”

      2. n*

        No, your experience is more in line with my much more recent experience of academia. Maybe it depends on the discipline? My experience is in a highly competitive field that’s known for being full of jerks.

      3. Sarah N*

        If that was the case for you, I’m sorry, and that was totally unacceptable behavior on the part of those professors! It was not at all like that at my school, and I would never treat one of my students in such a horrible manner. And even if this sort of behavior is common somewhere, that does not make it okay.

    6. Ella Vader*

      Something that hasn’t been mentioned: could the hiring organization easily find out about OP1’s beliefs/principles? (Does OP1 teach or do research on related issues? Is OP1 a board member of pro-choice organizations? Has OP1 written any advocacy pieces that are available publically?) If there’s a chance that the organization could find out and the student either doesn’t realize it or hasn’t thought through the implications, I think the OP could say “I want to support you, but I might not be the wisest choice because they’ll look me up and see that I’m the local chapter president of Planned Parenthood / I testified against their organization in court five years ago. So it’s up to you.”

      1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

        This is a really good point and something I can bring up to the student and let her make the choice.

    7. Joielle*

      Ok, but this is more than just “a political disagreement.” If this is an issue that doesn’t really affect you, then you can take a high-road stance pretty easily. If you personally feel the impact of the issue… it’s harder to look at a group that takes the opposite stance and just think “oh well, we disagree!” Then it’s a disagreement about whether you, personally, deserve to have certain rights and freedoms. The personal is political, as they say.

  5. OfficeLife*

    #1 – Though not exactly the same case, this recently happened at the University of Michigan (a student wished to go to an internship in Israel, the professor refused to write it). If I recall, the professor was reprimanded and the university apologized. I would say that the University of Michigan is less aligned with Israel than a Catholic university is with Catholic teachings, so something similar or more severe would occur here… If you indicate to the student why you are not writing the reference, you will likely have trouble. I have no idea how contracts look for Catholic universities, but I wonder if they could even fire you for it. I would not be surprised if they could.

    I understand the inclination to not write a reference, but the problem for withholding a reference for reasons like this is that it violates “the deal” of why the student worked for you at all… one of the main reasons students do internships or undergraduate research is to get a good reference to use later. There is a decent chance that if you had told this student, “I reserve the right to not give a reference if you apply to jobs I don’t agree with” that they would not have spent the time working for you. That doesn’t mean you necessarily have to do it, but it is kind of screwing over this student. Also, frankly, this means (unless you tell the student why you didn’t write the reference, which I suspect will get you fired) you cannot write this student a reference for ANY job. Ouch.

    I’m not sure how I feel about it overall… Ultimately, it’s not like they’re not going to hire anyone because of your lack of reference, so the lack of reference doesn’t change things, in a way. A possible option would be to write a general reference (and not include the name of the organization), to indicate your support for the student, as opposed to the organization. I’m sorry you’re in a tricky situation!

    1. AnonymousWolverine*

      Yeah, as someone that works for U-M I feel like the general attitude is that the professor was in the wrong to refuse to write that recommendation (for what that’s worth to the letter writer) and that I agree with your approach, to write a recommendation attesting to the student’s character and don’t focus on the religious aspect.

    2. Engineer Girl*

      The UofM deal was also a problem because that particular prof had previously written recommendations for students studying in Israel. He only changed his mind after he received tenure.
      A student requesting a recommendation would reasonably expect one based on previous history. To suddenly refuse without first notifying the students was incredibly unfair.

  6. Dr J*

    Op #1 – Professor here, albeit a new one. Generally, I’m inclined to agree with Alison. However, if you’re comfortable, I would suggest starting a dialogue with the student about why she wants to work with this organization, and explain the reasons you are uncomfortable with the organization (commenter Emily has good suggestions here). That way you can help the student think more critically, but you can also be transparent with her so that she can decide if she actually wants to use an unenthusiastic reference.

    1. Celia Bowen*

      Ok, so I’m absolutely pro-choice – but I don’t think the idea of encouraging someone to ‘think critically’ is appropriate when it comes to religious beliefs (beliefs I happen not to agree with but that’s not really the point). As in this context by ‘think critically’ you mean ‘agree with you’.

      1. Dr J*

        I suppose I could have phrased more clearly — I mean, if the student can lucidly articulate why they want to join this particular organization (as opposed to sending out applications to whatever positions are available), that would at least provide the potential recommender with some more context. I guess, when I talk to my students, I always want to start by listening to what they have to say. Sometimes it’s the case that a student like this is very passionate about the internship for whatever reason, and that provides an opportunity for the professor to explain their own stance. I think it’s important to be clear when you are hesitant about a recommendation to give the student an opportunity to seek another recommender. Sometimes, however, the student is just applying to whatever is available, and it becomes an opportunity for them to examine their own beliefs (with whatever result).

        1. Celia Bowen*

          I just don’t think this is fair on the student. Or appropriate when you have already chosen to work there and the student is reasonably expecting to be able to ask for a recommendation. I would write the letter.

          1. Dr J*

            I would also write the letter, if after a discussion the student still asked me to. However, as part of the recommendation writing process, I would have a similar conversation* with any student — even one applying to a less ethically-charged position. It helps me understand the students’ strengths and what they are hoping to get out of the internship. It also helps me evaluate whether I’m the best possible reference for a position. In my experience, students are learning how to solicit recommendations, and they often ask professors with whom they have a friendly relationship, rather than someone who would be better qualified, more well-connected in their field, etc.

            *Not necessarily face-to-face, but some sort of correspondence beforehand.

            1. ket*

              I know that what Dr J is saying sounds weird, Celia Bowen, but I actually had these conversation with three students last week who asked me for recommendations to graduate school. Yes, it is uncomfortable, but I felt I couldn’t write them an application without knowing why they wanted to make this switch in path (they’re in a terminal professional masters’ program — just about everyone goes from that program into a decently-paying job, and it’s not an academic stepping stone in general). So we had these awkward conversations where I asked, Why do you want to go grad school? Why this or that grad school? Why that program instead of that program? What are your larger goals?

              I hope that critical inquiry helped them. It helped me, too, in writing the letters, but it is most important for them that they are honest about what they’re doing, from trying to avoid going back home to the pursuit of knowledge to the pursuit of credentials to checking a box to please their parents.

            2. Kit-Kat*

              Yeah, I think this type of conversation is pretty normal, at least in my experience? For example, asking for a copy of your personal statement when recommending you to grad school. I always thought it was to help tailor the letter to the student’s goals.

            3. Gloucesterina*

              Yeah, I guess I am not seeing what is harmful or burdensome about inviting the student to articulate their interest and rationale for seeking a position. Can you say more?

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I would not recommend doing this, especially as a new professor. It assumes that your students are not thinking critically, but more importantly, we teach critical thinking in the course of a person’s academic pursuits. Students should not have to defend their internship choices before someone agrees to write them a recommendation. Unless you’re very careful in how you frame this dialogue, forcing a student to justify their internship choices will come off as paternalistic and condescending.

          1. Dr J*

            Hopefully my last response to Celia Bowen explains what I mean more clearly. I take recommendation writing very seriously and write detailed recommendations that always emerge out of a conversation with the student about why they are applying to a position (or type of position), what they hope to get out of it, etc. It helps me write the best letter possible.

          2. Jess*

            I absolutely disagree. If someone asks me to recommend them for a specific thing, they are asking me to say that I think they are a good match for that specific thing. So for me to ethically and effectively recommend them, I have to believe that they are a good match. Even if I’ve had them as a student, I still usually need more information to be convinced. And since I am rooting for them as a person, if there are hiccups in our conversation, it gives them a chance to clarify their thinking and build a more effective case for the application itself, or to shift direction if we’ve uncovered a reason why it isn’t a good fit.

            1. Dr J*

              Exactly. Often you’re asked to write a letter for a student you’ve taught once among potentially hundreds of students, and the job isn’t necessarily in the topic you teach. It’s crucial to get more info, and it helps the students write better applications.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              My disagreement was with the idea that you’d entertain an email exchange in order to determine if the student is thinking critically about why they are pursuing a particular opportunity. That’s different from what Dr. J described at 1:03 a.m. I agree with that comment, and I think that’s a reasonable (and preferable) way to suss out how to write an effective letter for that particular student.

            3. wow*

              I don’t think it is about being a good match. It’s nice if you know the organization and want to argue for that, but letter writers aren’t obligated to research organizations they aren’t familiar with. All you need to do is speak to what you know about the student.

            1. Lehigh*

              If she refuses to write it, she should absolutely say why. There is no moral courage or, indeed, integrity in taking a stance which you will not admit to in public.

    2. Marthooh*

      If you’re willing to write the letter, then write it. Talk to your student about your reservations after you hand it over to her. That way, the discussion is about her choice of where to work, not about whether you’ll give her the recommendation.

      1. Washi*

        I don’t think Dr. J is saying that the point of the conversation is for the student to “prove” that she has thought about this sufficiently or whatever. What Dr. J is describing sounds really normal for when I’ve asked someone to write a letter of rec for me – often they want to know more about my goals and about the org itself so that their letter can be tailored to the position.

        I think it could make a lot of sense for the OP to have the conversation as a way of gathering more information to make an informed decision. Maybe there are points the OP hasn’t considered about the organization/the student’s career plans. Maybe the student will gain something by talking through this as well.

        If I were a manager in this situation, that’s probably what I would do – gather more facts and decide from there on a spectrum of options what I felt most comfortable with.

  7. AcademiaNut*

    Regarding #1

    In general, for non academic references, you could be contacted by a prospective employer and asked for a reference, with no chance to research the organization and job to see if it aligned with your personal beliefs before giving a reference. So I think it’s a bit of an over-reach to use the letter based nature of academic references to try to influence or control where your student applies for internships.

    If you do deny the reference, I think that in the future you need to make this explicit to your students in general at the beginning of the term – that you will only provide references for jobs whose mission you personally agree with. That way the students know in advance and have the time to choose to work with and form relationships with faculty who will be useful to them when they apply for jobs (or to not waste their time applying to places they can’t get good references for).

    1. lawyer*

      Very much this. A student who has done excellent work for you and has a great relationship with you has no reason to expect that she wouldn’t receive a recommendation (assuming she gives you sufficient lead time, etc.). That is a part of professors’ responsibilities at many (most?) universities, and it’s fair for the student to rely on that. If you are going to take this position, you need to make it clear upfront that students can’t count on a recommendation for certain types of organizations.

      BTW, I am extremely liberal and went to a very liberal law school and received glowing recommendations from my professors for an internship in the Bush White House. I took the internship because I thought the experience and perspective would be valuable to my future work in doing exactly the opposite of what the Bush White House advocated for on this policy issue. All of this turned out to be true. I am very grateful that my professors took a different view than did this LW.

    2. JHunz*

      I think yours is the first top-level comment on #1 that I fully agree with. Refusing the recommendation at this point is doing the student a disservice with no warning.

      1. OhNo*

        Agreed. I had trouble articulating it, but I think this is exactly my issue with the situation: it would be changing the terms of engagement after the work (class/relationship/whatever) has already been done. If you want to make this a personal policy going forward, by all means do so. But in this case, it would be unfair to the student.

        That said, you don’t have to be enthusiastic about the mission of the company to write a reference for this student, even a glowing reference. Focus on what the student did/does well, what you like about them, or what they would bring to the table that would benefit any company. If you write a generic recommendation that could be used for any program or company, you might feel better about it.

  8. persimmon*

    OP #1, what about a compromise where you agree to write a general letter of recommendation for the student and send it anywhere she is applying, including the pro-life org, but not to tailor it to this org. So you are happy to speak to her diligence, etc., but if she needs someone to vouch for her dedication to to the cause, that will be a different letter.

    1. Joielle*

      Yeah, this seems reasonable to me. Perhaps a “better” recommendation would speak to the student’s dedication to the cause, but in this case, just writing a “to whom it may concern” letter about the student herself might be a compromise.

  9. PollyQ*

    #1: By working for a university associated with the Catholic church, you yourself are supporting an organization that goes against your beliefs. Why would you hold your student to a higher standard than yourself?

    1. Yvette*

      That is an amazingly excellent point, the Letter Writer doesn’t “want to support an organization that goes against my values” but has no problem accepting money from one? Or is it OK because the organization is supporting the Letter Writer rather than the other way around?

    2. Yllis*


      And I’m a cultural Catholic who is pro choice.

      Lw1 works for an arm one of the most pro life religions out there. Why does she only get to exercise her ethics when it doesn’t inconvenience and impact her and only affects a student?

      1. Just Employed Here*

        OP isn’t being asked to sign off on any work, though. Isn’t giving a reference about the student and their achievements and capabilities? It seems like the OP is wanting to punish a good student for not agreeing with her politics.

          1. valentine*

            OP1 does not want to help the org by recommending anyone, much less a good student.

            (Since nesting has intervened: I was agreeing with PollyQ’s By working for a university associated with the Catholic church, you yourself are supporting an organization that goes against your beliefs.)

            1. Just Employed Here*

              The OP is harming the student much more by not writing a recommendation than they would be helping an organization by writing it.

              1. Another Anon*

                There’s really no harm being done to the student here. If she’s an excellent student she will find another recommender.

                When I applied to law school I asked a professor I had taken 4 classes with (got all As), she was my internship advisor so we were in communication regularly, and I volunteered with her husbands halfway house (I didn’t know they were married when I started), and she ghosted me. She was the professor who knew me best and who could speak to my work ethic, but I’m an adult and found other recommendations. I think assuming that this student is automatically going to lose this opportunity unless the OP recommends her, or that this is going to somehow call into question OPs reputation, is a little silly and definitely overblown.

        1. Sunshine*

          A recommendation letter is a favour. I’m really uncomfortable with the idea that not doing someone a favour is ‘punishing’ them.

      2. mrs__peel*

        The only thing she’d be “signing off on” are the abilities and skills of the student in question.

    3. CC*

      I agree with this point but would also like to add the academic job market in many, many, fields is terrible, and if OP had a choice they might not work there. That being said, by working there (even if it’s the only academic job available), they do have to make a trade off on their pro-choice values.

      1. Namey McNameface*

        Maybe the student’s internship options are similarly limited for various reasons we don’t know.

        If the internship was blatantly against LW’s employer’s values (eg if LW worked for an animal rights organisation and a former employee wanted a reference to work at a slaughter house) there are valid grounds to refuse – it would be in contradiction to what the referee’s workplace stands for and could jeopardize the LW’s relationship with their employer. But a pro life org is directly aligned with the LW’s Catholic employer. So it would be inappropriate for LW to refuse.

      2. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

        She has a choice, she just doesn’t like the consequences. Which is totally an understandable trade off until you start imposing standards on others that you dont live up to yourself.

        1. Mookie*

          What standards? Teaching students in an unrelated field bears no relation to advocating for legislation that kerbs reproductive freedom, unless you think Catholics are undeserving of an education because of their political beliefs or that they alone hold the patent on the anti-choice position. Co-existing with people who are anti-choice is mostly impossible to avoid, does not taint a person, and isn’t even particularly desirable unless you’re utterly incapable of accepting that other people will never entirely please you. It’s weird to assume pro-choice people are incapable of or ought to fear interacting with their ideological opposites or that teaching them somehow enables the anti-choice movement, like if the LW quit tomorrow (some) Catholics would magically become pro-choice.

          1. Michio Pa*

            “Co-existing with people who are anti-choice is mostly impossible to avoid”
            Is this not the perfect example of co-existing though? A pro-choice professor at a pro-life-on-paper-but-pro-choice-in-practice institution writing a recommendation for a student to work at a pro-life organization? No one is saying you should only work at Catholic universities if you’re pro-life. But people are saying that if you’re pro-choice/atheist/against other things the church is known to stand for, then dealing with conflict of beliefs is something you’re going to have to square with. If you don’t want to enable beliefs you disagree with, don’t work for a university that espouses those beliefs.

            1. Mookie*

              You’re not enabling beliefs by mere association wirh people holding those beliefs. It’s bizarre and unrealistic to expect soneone to become a hermit, lest they ‘hypocritically’ come into contact with someone who disagrees with them. Far too much special pleading here.

        1. nnn*

          Oh, this gave me a radical idea: LW #1 could make the dilemma go away by finding another, better internship (or paid employment that’s relevant to your field) for which this student is unquestionably a stronger candidate! The student gets a better offer, accepts it because it’s a no-brainer, and the problem is gone. (Or, if the student still wants the anti-abortion internship, LW could deny the reference with a clear conscience, because the student already has a better offer.)

          LW, if you’re reading this, pause for a second and examine your visceral reaction to this idea.

          If you’re thinking “WTF??? That’s would be a ridiculous amount of work, and it’s not like there are awesome internships or paid jobs for undergrads just lying around free for the taking!” then it’s possible this is the best your student can do.

          If you’re thinking “Oh, that’s easy, here are a dozen organizations who I know for a fact would love to have someone like Student”, perhaps that’s information to put in front of this student (and your other students as well).

          If you’re thinking “It’s not even relevant – random unpaid internships have nothing to do with future employability in the teapot industry, it’s all about how you do on your Teapot Certification Exams”, perhaps that’s the information to put in front of your students, and perhaps you’re in a better ethical position to deny the reference.

          But I do think an aspect of the answer to the question lies in how easy it would be for Student to find a comparable or better alternative, and your reaction to the idea of doing so yourself is a good rough indicator of how easy it actually would be (as opposed to the trap all too many fall into of waving their hand and saying “Oh, there are tons of opportunities out there” without being able to name any.)

        2. Anna*

          Because the student shouldn’t be putting all their eggs in one internship basket because the letter of recommendation is no guarantee they’ll get the internship anyway. I work with this age group. I frequently have to remind them that applying to one job and calling it good is a bad idea because what if they don’t get that job? If this is the ONLY internship the student applied to, that student has bigger things to worry about than one rec letter.

          1. LJay*

            But what if the student did apply to multiple internships and this is the one she stands the best chance of getting?

          2. Observer*

            So, if the student is having major problems that makes it MORE ok to force them to make compromises that the OP is not willing to make?

            1. Anna*

              I don’t even understand this comment. Basically y’all have veered deep into sandwich territory and it’s time to come back in.

      3. Corporate Lady*

        There’s always a choice. The hypocrisy of penalizing a student for picking and org that alligns with the OPs chosen workplace seems…. unfortunate.

        I’m pro choice – but would expect a catholic school reference to not object to a prolife org. If the OP wants to take a stand, work somewhere else. Don’t penalize the student.

      4. Yvette*

        And how do we know the student isn’t doing the same? Choosing or perhaps even settling for this internship for the money and or experience. Nowhere in the original letter does it indicate the student’s personal political views. There has been mention that the LW shouldn’t be surprised that a student at a Catholic University would have Catholic values, but again, nowhere are the student’s personal views mentioned. I attended a Catholic university, not because I was a staunch Catholic, but because it was a good school with an excellent reputation.

    4. ——-*

      Yes. I am a nurse who used to work at an abortion clinic. I was harassed daily at work, they’d try to follow us home (lots of driving in circles to get rid of them), and 3 people were murdered at an affiliate site 3 years ago.

      At a job fair, a Catholic hospital wouldn’t even talk to me once they saw it on my resume. They said they’d never hire someone who worked *there.* That same church pays OPs salary.

      I’d be outraged if a student at a (non-Catholic) school requested a letter for an internship at PP or NARAL or another pro-choice org. Or an LGBTQ+ group. Or, referring to the Michigan case, to an Israeli or Palestinian advocacy group. And so, despite my and the OPs personal disagreement, I think she needs to write the letter. It isn’t about the organization. It’s about the student. If the OP is supervising the student, opportunities for requesting her reflection abound.

      * obviously this should not apply to any of the groups that actively promote violence against abortion care providers, etc

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          I think she meant outraged if a recommendation were withheld because the professor disapproved of the LGBT+ group.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        You don’t want to work for a Catholic hospital anyways.

        When they do rape kits, they do not offer the morning after pill by policy. Some will bend if you ask but a rape victim isn’t always thinking straight, as you know. Argh.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Did you ever see the episode of Boston Legal about this? I think that hospital was another religion, but the same otherwise. Very illuminating!

        1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

          And yet it’s accurate. It’s the difference between the OP having the possibility of 10 choices in a year, and the student having practically infinite choices. It’s the difference between possible homelessness and starvation, and the student having to make due with their second choice. Let’s not draw false equivalency, here. The student’s life isn’t going to be ruined if they intern somewhere else; my *only* job offer this year was at a university that doesn’t align with my values.

          1. MK*

            It may be accurate generally, but we have no idea that it is accurate in this specific case; the OP may have had other choises of employment, the student may not have as many options as many commenters want to believe. But even if so, it does not make this rationale any less repugnant morally: an academic is allowed to compromise their ideals to further their career and find employment, but they reserve the right to hinder their students from working against those ideals.

            1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

              No one’s hindering anyone. The student will find another recommender, who can write them a brilliant and whole-heartedly supportive letter. No harm, no foul, and everyone lives to see another day. You, and other commenters, act like the OP would be shooting the student in the foot and laughing over their writhing body. Until you’ve lived this life, I’d thank you to keep your morally absolutist outrage under control.

              1. Kes*

                But that’s also a total assumption on your part – ‘The student will find another recommender, who can write them a brilliant and whole-heartedly supportive letter’ – which you have no way of knowing is true. In many cases students don’t have much or any work history, and may not have many professors who really know them and their work well enough to be able to speak to it. OP could well be her student’s best option, and we don’t know if the student has other good options.

                1. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

                  Yes. It’s an assumption on my part. Based on 9 years of being a full time student, and 6 years of being professor. Based on both needing and writing letters of recommendation, at least a half-dozen times a semester. For the past nine years. It’s an assumption on my part.

                2. Anna*

                  And what if the student can’t eat sandwiches, either?

                  This student apparently has one professor, one class, only applied to one internship, and if they don’t get this one internship, will be destitute for the rest of their lives.

      1. pancakes*

        Hardly unique to academia. If you want to have a look at wage stagnation metrics—and to be clear I think everyone should!—the job market is terrible for everyone but people whose earnings put them in the top 10%.

    5. Mookie*

      Which means she is writing in good faith and is capable of compartmentalizing for the good of her students. Honestly, this is a sad gotcha based on a fallacy of purity. People’s choices, like who they can afford to work for and what they must tolerate to earn a living or fulfill an ambition or serve a need, are always constrained. We’re allowed to pick and choose our battles.

      1. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

        It’s awfully convenient when the battles you pick are at someone else’s expense and not your own.

    6. Czhorat*


      This is exactly the point I logged on to make.

      While I would consider an anti-abortion rights organization far enough against my beliefs that if not feel comfortable with the recommendation, OP is working for an organization holding those exact values.

      This is a case in which you very likely have the moral obligation to resign. At the very least, your working for a Catholic university hours the impression that you support and endorse them.

    7. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Because OP probably has bills to pay, the academic market is terrible, and they can do good work moving their own values forward even in an organization that often counters their values.

      But mostly OP probably has bills to pay. This is not the checkmate you likely think it is.

      1. Blue Eagle*

        But the issue is not whether or not the OP has bills to pay. For me, it is totally OK to work for an employer whose views you disagree with.

        The hypocritical issue here is that the OP thinks it is OK for themself to work at an employer whose views they disagree with but want to restrict their students from working at an employer whose views they disagree with.

      2. Observer*

        If it’s ok for the OP to choose to pay the bills by working for a profoundly anti-abortion (not just pro-life) organization, then why is it not ok for the student to choose to pay their bills either directly (if this is either a paid internship or one that will also let them hold a job) or indirectly (by enabling to get experience that will help their career)?

        The OP gives no indication of what it is that the organization does (there is a difference, for instance, between an organization that specializes in trying to physically intimidate people who work in abortion clinics on one extreme and people whose pro-life stance is an incidental part of a larger and genuinely useful mission on the other extreme) or what other options the student has. Absent evidence that the organization’s behavior is worse than that of the Catholic Church and that the student has better options than the OP, a decision to not write that recommendation is simply hypocrisy. I wold say this regardless of the issue – This is not a matter of abortion being good, bad or indifferent. It’s a matter of saying “It’s ok for me to make calculations about the relative merits of the moral standards of my employer vs my career and financial needs, but it’s not ok for you to do that.”

      3. Fergus, Stealer of Pens and Microwaver of Fish*

        So money is more important than one’s beliefs. Got it.

        For the record, money is more important than most of my beliefs too. That’s not what the problem here is – the problem is claiming the moral high ground while ignoring the giant blind spot that’s shaped like a paycheck from the Catholic Church.

    8. KayEss*

      Because, in addition to an absence of options, the academic community at Catholic universities still skews liberal and is generally dedicated to ensuring that students receive a broad ideological education? Would you prefer that students attending Catholic universities get no exposure to alternate viewpoints?

      I worked at a small Catholic university as staff, and not only were most of the faculty areligious and liberal, but a sizable (as in national news worthy) percentage of the student body was Muslim–local Muslim parents were more willing to send their children to a Catholic university they could be reasonably certain shared their cultural values (usually re: partying and alcohol) than to the area’s secular institutions. Those kids deserve a chance to get a decent education, and I’m glad OP is offering it.

      1. Peggy*

        But if the professors skew liberal, that also means that the student is not as likely to find an alternative reference for this position (assuming other pro-choice profs hold themselves to the same standard as LW and refuse to write the letter).

    9. BluntBunny*

      It depends on how they promote their religion. We don’t have catholic universities in the UK but we have primary, secondary schools and colleges. Often the only difference is funding and that there is a chapel on site and how selective they are for non catholics. It maybe be the only decent school in the area.

      1. Public Sector Manager*

        St. Mary’s University in London (Twickenham) would be like a Catholic University here in the U.S.

    10. Yorick*

      If the role involved, for example, hassling women who were going into the abortion clinic, I guess I’d tell the student I couldn’t support their application for that job. Otherwise, I’d do it. The point is to help the student find work, not channel them into the career you want for them by cutting off other opportunities.

    11. Bday Girl*

      I had the same thought. Also, Catholic employers have a long history of penalizing employees who don’t follow their belief system, regardless of their religion. A teacher in PA was dismissed by the school because she got pregnant out of wedlock and said she would not be marrying her boyfriend with whom she lives. OP1 should be careful not to let her real feelings be known by her superiors.

      1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

        My boss knows I went through IVF while working there and knows I volunteer at Planned Parenthood so I’m safe on those accounts, though I know that’s not the case at other schools!

    12. Dr. Pepper*

      I wondered that myself. My first thought was “why do you work for a Catholic institution if you feel this strongly on such matters?” The Catholic Church doesn’t make any bones about its stance on many issues, including this one. While I fully appreciate the fact that faculty jobs are hard to come by, I don’t understand why it’s okay for you to support the Church- and all their beliefs- with your skills and labor but it’s not okay for a student to do so.

    13. Yorick*

      Besides the point that the academic job market doesn’t leave people with many choices, we don’t know how Catholic this school really is in practice. A university may be affiliated with a religious organization but not actually be a religious organization itself. I went to a small Methodist college, but one wouldn’t have known from the campus culture that it was affiliated with any religion.

    14. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

      This has been brought up a lot and is a good question that I’ve thought about! I guess because my job is very much in line with my beliefs (supporting DACA students) I don’t see myself as working for an organization that goes against my beliefs? I’ve worked here for over a decade and haven’t ever had to discuss abortion/etc, so while I definitely disagree with the Catholic church on a lot of things, I’ve been able to work here without directly compromising my beliefs, and while also trying to support students that are often left out in the cold by the church (ie, advising the LGBT student organization, etc)

      So I guess I’d push back against the idea that I’m holding my student to a higher standard to myself, though I definitely get where the hypocrisy argument is coming from – I am working for an organization that I don’t agree with 100% on every issue.

      1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

        Also, I’ve mentioned it below but for people who haven’t seen it, my plan is to tell the student that I volunteer with Planned Parenthood but if they’re still cool with me writing the letter I’d be happy to! I think it’s information that they should know in case the organization finds out somehow, but it should be her decision when she knows the info, not mine.

        1. Michio Pa*

          No, I see where OP is coming from. I think it’s OK to pick and choose parts of something to approve of, like religion or workplace values, and accepting that we have to compromise on the rest. Like how I can enjoy my daily work, but not approve of the CEO lying on their taxes.

          That said, I think OP is lucky to not have faced this issue before now, because naturally at a Catholic institution, you’re going to have students and faculty who live their lives according to what the pope says is OK. So I shouldn’t be surprised if my CEO asks me to lie on company taxes. I think OP will have to continue to compartmentalize, or at least fully explain their reason for refusal to the student.

    15. mrs__peel*

      I completely agree. I don’t personally see working for a Catholic-affiliated university or hospital (etc.) as being significantly different than working for the type of organization the student is applying to, in terms of the values and goals of the organizations.

      If you’re willing to take a paycheck from that type of employer, then it’s a bit rich to object to your students doing the exact same thing.

  10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, it sounds like you haven’t shut your employee down, which may be why he’s not picking up your cues. In the examples you’ve provided, you start by sympathizing with him and then hoping he’ll pick up that you need to move on. I think it’s totally fine to very kindly tell him that you’d prefer not to discuss his romantic/dating life, but I would lead with that message. Don’t sympathize when he’s excited or commiserating about the challenges of dating—go straight to a warm smile and a kind recitation of Alison’s scripts.

    1. valentine*

      OP2: If you relaxed boundaries when his wife was dying, maybe he doesn’t realize that was a special circumstance and he needs to rein it in now. (In future, do offer employees work-based support and flexibility, but don’t be a confidante or sounding board.) Tell him you expect his sharing to be like yours (“I had a nice date at mini golf”; no philosophizing/Feelings, nothing that, in a movie, might be accompanied by a deep sigh), especially since he’s dating an employee, and most especially if that person is also your employee, and that, while it’s okay for brief anecdotes to come up during work talk, he’s to stop visiting you as though you’re his friend. Reset the line and hold it.

      1. Nita*

        That’s it. I think this is complicated by the fact that the employee did share a lot about his personal life while taking care of his wife, and the boss encouraged that so she could know how to support him. Pushing back now may be misunderstood as the boss disapproving of the new relationship. It may be better to say that OP prefers not to know too much since the employee is dating a coworker and as the boss, OP would like to not discuss the relationship in the office in an effort to keep the employees’ personal and professional life somewhat separate.

        1. hbc*

          I dunno, if she implies that it’s because he’s dating a colleague, then OP opens herself to hearing all about when he starts dating his neighbor or gets into online dating. She either needs to draw the line at not discussing employees’ romantic lives, or make clear that the former personal support was about the particular situation. I’d go with the former because it’s probably very difficult to not hear the latter as “I was nice to you because your wife was dying, too bad you thought we were friends,” but someone who’s good at these situations could pull it off.

          1. Cat Fan*

            The difference is that with the employee’s wife, that wasn’t about their romantic relationship, it was about the fact that she was dying. The letter writer could easily say that he doesn’t feel comfortable discussing employees’ romantic lives.

            1. Cat Fan*

              Just wanted to add that you could replace the term romantic life with relationship. I think the same thing applies, the employee’s wife was dying, he was not discussing their relationship.

      2. kittymommy*

        This is what I was thinking as well. It’s likely that the dynamic between the LW and employee became more personal in nature during his wife’s illness and passing (totally natural and understandable, though maybe not advisable) and now he’s hasn’t readjusted or realizes he needs to readjust.

      3. Dr. Pepper*

        That’s what I think is happening. Boundaries are things that tend to move in one direction and don’t go back unless effort is made, rather like entropy. He’s gotten used to the idea of talking about his personal life with you, and now he likely feels like he’s actually got something *exciting* to say instead of talking about the grim slog that is caring for a loved one with a terminal disease. The sharing has a become a habit, and as we all know, habits don’t get broken all by themselves. Be kind, but be firm. It’s going to take awhile for him to develop a new habit- *not* talking about his personal life- so expect to correct him multiple times before you see a distinct change.

    2. Lexi Kate*

      Yes, its time to start cutting him off when he talks about his romantic life. I had a mentor when I was first managing that said when someone brought too extensive talks about personal things in to talk with me about to stop them and say “I would love to hear about blah blah over lunch sometime because coffee doesn’t seem like it would be enough, however I have to stop you for right now because I have a few deadlines to meet. See if we can pick this up at lunch next week.” The key is not to apologize and the first few times I wanted to apologize so badly because it sounded so harsh and not at all like the boss I wanted to be. It gets easier and honestly I have only had to have 1-2 lunches with employees because most don’t want to set up a lunch about their personal life, and I dont bring up the lunch again.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      Maybe you should check with his co-workers and make sure that he isn’t talking everyone’s ear off about this? Sometimes when people are focused on the new thing in their life it is all they want to talk about ever, and if this is starting to bug other people you made need to have a bigger picture chat with him about moderation in topics of conversation.

    4. Elizabeth Proctor*

      I would skip this—Try being more direct when it comes up in the moment by saying something like,“Let’s not go too far down that path — I’ve got to keep my manager hat on.”

      And go right to this—But if doing that a time or two doesn’t work, then address it more head-on: “I’m truly happy that you’re happy, but as your manager, I want us to keep good boundaries, which for me means not getting into the intricacies of dating. I hope you understand.”

      1. CM*

        +1. To me, the “manager hat” version makes it sound like you really would like to talk to him, but not right now while you’re managing. The more direct version is still very gentle but clear. I’d go straight to that.

    5. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I was thinking that it sounds like the employee sees OP as his mentor in all things and just doesn’t know quite what the boundaries are. If OP is nice about setting boundaries, hopefully employee will understand.

      And maybe he’s lonely and doesn’t have a lot of friends to help him puzzle out relationship issues. Poor guy.

      1. Steve*

        I initially thought the same, then I wondered if this may be a situation where dating is something which can make us very vulnerable, and the employee may prefer to share dating worries with their boss rather than friends. Or maybe all the employee’s friends have been married for 15+ years and aren’t sympathetic to this new situation? Someone newly widowed can often be criticized for dating ‘too soon’ (even if it’s 4 years later).

        This doesn’t make the employee’s conversations any more acceptable, but it might be worthwhile to consider that the employee may be keen to discuss with the OP for specific reasons.

        It may be worthwhile to explain this difference to the employee. I don’t know how exactly it would be different for me, but it would. I can be sympathetic to someone’s experience with illness, yet not have any interest in their dating life. If anyone can articulate this reason that would likely be quite useful for the OP.

    6. Boss in OP2*

      I’m going to reply to this thread of replies here – I’m the original poster, and thank everyone for their thoughtfulness in how to address this. I think leading with the preference, and being more direct if it does come up, is the way to go. I think you are right, Princess, that I am sending mixed messages, so I need to be clearer. I’m not going to offer to go to lunch, as we have a cafeteria where we work and I am pretty sure I’d be taken up on it (when I don’t want to be).

      1. KimberlyR*

        OP2-so many of Alison’s letters have to do with someone hoping the other person picks up on their subtle cues and the other person just…doesn’t. You’ve beaten around the bush and he hasn’t gotten the hint, so yes, be more direct. You can still be friendly without him considering you a friend or sounding board.

      2. Jasper's Mom*

        OP2, one thing that struck me with your letter was the fact that he’s mentioned worries about dating someone with health issues again. If your company has access to an EAP program, it might be a kindness to steer him to a professional who can talk through those anxieties with him. Even if you were inclined to listen & chat with him about his relationship (I don’t think you should, considering all the circumstances!), talking through something like that seems way heavier than what even a supportive friendship can do. If there’s a way to suggest he bring up his concerns with a professional or grief counselor or something, that might help.

  11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, once you hit the one-year mark, you may also want to exercise your right to intermittent FMLA leave. I don’t know if your employer is covered, but it’s another avenue to consider further down the line that can alleviate some of the stress of having to be out of office each quarter.

    1. valentine*

      Intermittent FMLA is a good idea. OP4: I would leave it at recurring medical appointments, no details.

        1. Rezia*

          I was in a similar-ish situation (chronic disease not cancer) and my boss was known to be a bit stingy about time off, being particularly unsympathetic about illness. A mentor of mine pushed me to get intermittent FMLA so I would be protected and that gave me some mental peace of mind when I had to call in sick at the last minute due to an unexpected flare up.

    2. TL -*

      They have unlimited PTO so it seems silly to take the time unpaid, though it’s good to know it’s an option if their benefits change.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        FMLA isn’t necessarily unpaid. It can be, but it’s pretty typical for employers to require people to use their paid leave toward the three-month allotment that FMLA provides. It generally only becomes unpaid once you’re out of PTO.

      2. Greg NY*

        FMLA also protects your job. Even with unlimited PTO, you can be let go if your time off is too onerous to the employer. For example, it may be OK to take off two straight weeks several times a year but not intermittent days here and there when it would be more disruptive. For discretionary time off, such as vacation, an employee working at an organization with unlimited PTO would be cognizant of their colleagues’ needs in scheduling their time off, but that often isn’t possible for medical leave, as this LW needs.

        At an employer with unlimited PTO, FMLA would be fully paid, but it still would be good to formally invoke it so your job is secure.

        1. Kyrielle*

          All of this, but also read the organization’s policies. If we take extended FMLA here (with unlimited FTO), we go into an unpaid status (but can apply for short-term disability coverage). No mention of that for intermittent FMLA leave, though.

          1. Decima Dewey*

            At my employer, when you take FMLA only the first five whole days are covered. The rest are unpaid, or you have to use vacation time. Sounds silly if you have lots of sick time booked, but that’s what our HR allows.

        2. Mrs B*

          Seconded. After years of almost never using sick leave, I find myself in a situation where an ongoing concern causes me to have to take time off unexpectedly and make multiple medical appointments which often can not be planned outside my working hours. I had assumed that because I have had such a exemplary attendance record and lots of banked sick leave, FMLA was not necessary, but HR explained to me that it was important to apply regardless.

        3. Live & Learn*

          That’s not actually true. Payment of FMLA time is at the company’s discretion with unlimited vacation. Since you don’t have leave banked at any point, because you don’t accrue it, you technically have a zero balance at all times. My company also offers unlimited vacation time but when someone takes FMLA for say the birth of a child the company will allow you up to 8 weeks off paid, you can still take the government protected 12 but they won’t pay for the last 4 weeks. For other cases, like a long illness they will usually pay for ~2 weeks ad then short term disability kicks in and the policy pays for a few weeks, beyond that long term disability insurance kicks in or you stop getting paid. Which really makes me worry about the people who don’t have short/long term diability coverage because they they could be sick, unemployed and with no health insurance!

    3. OnTheSpot*

      Something I didn’t know until an employee was diagnosed with cancer recently – cancer is now covered under ADA.

    4. chronic employee*

      I highly, highly, highly recommend FMLA as help with job protection. I recently lost my job and part of the details i received after the fact were that i wasn’t “present” enough (despite our unlimited leave policy and their knowledge of my chronic illness and my communication of everything that was going on, etc, and frankly, the fact that i was still a kick ass employee). I’m currently doing contract work now but as soon as i have another full time job, it’s FMLA all the way.

  12. YB*

    OP #1, I’m sorry, I really don’t understand where you’re coming from (and would like to!)

    If you write this letter, you’re not recommending the organization – you’re recommending your student. You’re not supporting the organization – you’re supporting the student. I’m not even saying you’re obligated to do that, if you don’t want to do that – I come from a culture where it’s virtually unheard of to oppose reproductive choice, and if a student of mine wanted to work for an anti-choice organization, I would feel less than inclined to support them. I would also, if the student were good, hope that she didn’t get this job, because I’d want the job to go to someone incompetent who wouldn’t effectively advocate against basic human rights. So if one of these things is what’s going on, we’re on the same page—but to me, your letter implies that for you to recommend the student is for you to co-sign the aims of the organization. I don’t follow that.

    1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

      I’m surprised that people’s rent seeing the connection between supporting the org and providing them with unpaid labor.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          It’s not the OP providing them with labour, it’s the student getting experience they need for their CV (and possibly earning a living, see below). The student is not OP’s property, so their labour is not for the OP to provide.

          As far as I can see, we don’t know if the internship is unpaid.

          1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

            It’s greasing the wheels of the org, and I can’t get over the convenient blind spot that most people are adopting here.

            This isn’t a typical job reference, which might be what’s confusing people. The student is asking for a recommendation, which is a whole different thing that requires more work and thought than a reference. Professors say no all the time.

            1. Just Employed Here*

              At the very least, I think the OP has to be honest and open about why they can’t provide a recommendation, if they end up deciding that. Otherwise they are just being hypocritical.

              1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

                Psh my professors never gave reasoned explanations for why they “didn’t have time” to write me a recommendation letter or do anything else along those lines. They are allowed to say no. A good student has more than one option when it comes to letter writers.

                1. Just Employed Here*

                  I’m not saying yours did, I am saying this OP should.

                  We don’t know why the student asked OP (best grades, most applicable specialty, etc.?) but they did.

                  Not writing a recommendation solely because of personal political views and blaming it on lack of time (etc.) wouldn’t be a white lie, it would just be a lie. And, as shown by the University of Michigan example cited here, this may be a question the university has a stake in, as well.

            2. Ottoline*

              This was a very clarifying comment for me. Several decades ago I think I used to see education as a bit above “just” job-hunting. Now, after years of teaching higher education, I see my old position as informed by a bunch of my own class privilege. Many of my students are in school to get jobs and to use their skills to affect the world in ways that matter to them, and if I don’t see that as a valid use of their time, I’m being near-sighted about how much I’ve been unusual in pursuing / indulging a vocation instead of a salary and in how being their teacher should not allow me to control or affect how they choose to affect the world or how they use their education. I might hope to inform or inspire or advise, but not choose for them. If I don’t like their choices, I’ve nonetheless signed on for my job which includes accurate LOR when earned, just as pharmacists sign on for dispensing medication.

              So I do think that letters of recommendation are analogous to acting as a manager’s reference from a job. You are offering information on the student’s *work* in an academic context: her skills, competence, habits of work. As a professor, I see my role as including providing such references. My students pay tuition* to get an educational package and part of that package is staff from the institution offering accurate documentation of the student ‘s educational achievement. Transcripts and grades provide at best a partial picture to potential employers and other educational institutions. Letters of recommendation fill in that picture. Students earn them through their performance in courses and through on campus work. I don’t feel comfortable with me or my colleagues deciding whether we provide letters of reference based on where the student is applying any more than I would want one of my previous job references factoring that into the equation.

              I might well advise the student if I perceived the organization to be toxic, but I wouldn’t make my recommendation contingent upon approving of the purpose of the organization itself.

              *In my case at a publicly funded community college institution, the citizens and employers in my state also pay taxes that are then used for us to educate students, so my responsibility to the larger community includes an often-mentioned-on-campus obligation to employers as well.

            3. Decima Dewey*

              The need for a paycheck or experience leads to people working for organizations they don’t support politically or otherwise all the time. Several liberals have worked for the National Review to pay the bills.

    2. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

      I guess I didn’t explain myself clearly because what you said is basically my concern – this is a great student do giving this organization I morally oppose to a great student means that they’re going to have a competent worker who is furthering the aims of something I don’t agree with.

      I get what people are saying as far as it’s hypocritical that I work at a university that has pro-life values so it’s hypocritical for me to not want a student to do the same – and I get where they’re coming from so I’m thinking on that. But I do think there’s a difference between giving an organization I disagree with an employee that will fight against my rights vs working at a Catholic University in something completely unrelated to pro-life values.

      1. mrs__peel*

        “giving them an employee”

        You don’t own her! She’s not your property to pass off to an organization that comports with your own personal values. She’s an autonomous human being who can make her own choices and work for whomever she chooses. You apparently think a great deal of her intelligence and hard work, but it doesn’t seem to me like you’re respecting her autonomy or ability to make her own life choices. (And I say this as an extremely pro-choice left winger).

        I don’t really understand why people think it’s a recommendation writer’s business where a recommendee goes on to work or study next. I’ve written a number of recommendations, and have also received them from professors and managers. All of them were general “To Whom It May Concern”-type letters that outlined the person’s abilities, work ethic, etc., in a general manner. I think you owe that to someone who’s done good work for you, whom you have no other complaints about as an employee. That’s not an endorsement of whatever organization someone chooses to work at subsequently.

        1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

          Hey, thanks for calling me out on how problematic my wording was re: “giving them an employee” – that was particularly ironic considering the topic of my question, and I didn’t even realize it until you said something!

      2. Michio Pa*

        What if the student went to do something totally unrelated in a pro-life org? Like if she went to do their taxes? I see how you are drawing the line between “actively supporting/harming” the issue and “making a compromise to achieve other/more important goals”. But I think you should allow your student to make that same choice.

  13. Sammie*

    LW#1 – I would not be thrilled about supporting such an organisation either. But as someone who grew up in a country badly harmed by the Catholic Church’s policies and scandals, I could not work for a university run by them either. But you’re okay with it, despite the fact that the Church IS pro-life, is anti-LGBTQ+, is still rife with scandals around which they continuously evade responsibility etc. People draw different lines. I think it could be valuable to open a dialogue with the student about their desire to be involved with this organization and go from there.

  14. CatCat*

    #1 No matter what you do, the org’s getting an intern. So your choice will have no real bearing on the organization itself.

    Your only role here is to support the student or not support the student.

    1. pleaset*

      If the pool of applicants is larger and stronger, the org is likely to end up with an even better intern. So having the OP’s intern apply with a rec strengthens (on average) the org a tiny bit.

      nnn is onto something if the OP wanted to undermine the organization….

    2. Mookie*

      That’s great, but that’s true of a wide range of political topics and entities. Choosing not to directly provide material support to an organization anathema to your beliefs is a mundane act, but it’s not a passive one at all. Not all political activity ought to be atomized or consumer-based, but there’s such a phenomenon as divestment and this is it.

  15. Jess*

    #1 is a toughie. I’ve written recommendations for students (though not through a university, so I had free reign to say yes or no without institutional expectations in the mix), and I still don’t feel clear on the right way to handle it. Seems like this is an area where universities may need to craft policy, so the expectations are clear in advance for both professors and students.

    I’m very pro-choice myself, and I think if this was a non-religious school, I’d support the faculty member in not helping a student help the pro-life movement. But given that it’s a Catholic university, I think the faculty member kind of loses the right to object on those grounds.

    Ultimately, I think having a conversation with the student about their choices, rather than withholding a recommendation, is a better way to go in most situations. And I do think that an internship is a different animal than a study abroad program (e.g., the UMich example others have mentioned, where I think the prof should have written the letter).

  16. Namey McNameface*

    LW1: Where the student goes to work is not your choice, and it would be unfair for you to interfere with that decision by withholding a reference. Imagine if this was the other way around – a Christian professor refusing to write a recommendation for a student who wants to intern at family planning. We would be collectively outraged and say the professor should not allow their personal convictions to influence the student’s chosen career path.

    Of course you can say no in extreme circumstances as Alison mentioned above, but the bar would have to be pretty high. Even as a strongly pro choice feminist I don’t think it’s right for you to decline a reference.

    1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

      This is the kind of response that, forgive me, betrays a lack of insight into a professor’s job description and the whole point of these recommendations. No one is depriving anyone of a livelihood. This is an internship. Broadly speaking, it’s acceptable for a professor to say, “Hey this rando internship you found seems like it’ll be more of a fun hangout than something that provides legit educational value. Find something else.” It’s not a professor’s job to sign every piece of paper that lands on their desk.

      I question the OP’s thought process for other reasons, but I’m honestly surprised at the way this debate is spiraling, as if every cause is deserving of a steady stream of unpaid interns.

      1. Namey McNameface*

        Eh, this isn’t about the actual value of the recommendation letter or the internship programme itself.

        For the LW to refuse to write one based on her own moral convictions is itself inappropriate (bar some extreme circumstance). The LW isn’t giving advice about the actual value of the internship – which would be within the boundaries of her job description – or declining to sign unnecessary or excessive paperwork. She’s giving the student judgment on their potential employer’s ethics, which is really not her business; as well as refusing to provide reasonable support to a student solely based on conflicting values. If you think that’s acceptable you should be equally supportive of a Christian professor declining to write reference letters to students applying to work at Family Planning.

      2. hbc*

        I think a professor’s job is to provide recommendations in a consistent and fair way. Whether it’s “Only if I know your work well and you’re good” or “B or higher and only for the first 10 in line” or “If I have time and you’re not awful” or “”If the internship will provide good educational value” or whatever combination. No one is saying this has to be Oprah and “You get a rec! You get a rec! Everybody gets a rec!!!”

        I don’t get the sense that OP has such a stance, and even then, “I have to like what kind of work the org does” is a pretty indefensible position, and even less so when working for an organization that vocally and materially supports the same work. I think we’d all be pretty ticked off if Professor Hippy Engineer refused to write recommendations for anyone to work in the oil or gas industry, Professor McSnooty won’t write recs for journalism students to work in digital media instead of dead tree news, or a student being surprised to find out that he’s worked in an AI lab for four years but the only person who knows his work well won’t support any government-related work.

        There’s also the selfish aspect. You can bet that a school that aligns itself a particular way (Catholic university, vocally liberal, whatever) will not be pleased with professors who interfere with students who want to follow those tenets. Maybe there’s tenure preventing dismissal, but funding, teaching assignments, committees, and lab/office space are all easily adjusted.

        1. Sunshine*

          Hmmm. I’ve seen some comments about how students *should* get a recc because they’ve paid for their schooling. And that if you will refuse one for any reason that should be in your course literature???

      3. mrs__peel*

        Not all internships are “fun hangouts”. Sometimes they lead to full-time jobs, or at least provide valuable professional connections that can give people a significant leg-up in their future careers.

        In any case, it’s completely inappropriate for a professor to make the call on whether an internship is worthwhile for a student based *solely* on whether they personally agree or disagree with the politics of the organization. The student is the only person who can ultimately decide if the opportunity is worthwhile for their education and career.

        If you’re going to refuse to write a recommendation solely because you disagree with an organization’s politics, at least be upfront about that and don’t couch it in terms of “Well, this isn’t very important for your career anyway”.

  17. Not A Manager*

    LW1, I’m confused. How is recommending a student for a job at an organization “supporting” that organization? Obviously the organization is going to fill that position with a good candidate no matter what.

    Is the issue here that you want to deprive the organization of this particular student? Or is the issue that you want to deprive the student of this particular job? To me, it really sounds like it’s the latter. Do you want to be the kind of person who *literally* interferes with someone else’s job opportunities?

    If someone came to me and wanted a recommendation for a white supremacist organization (per Alison’s example), I wouldn’t recommend them for ANY job. The issue wouldn’t be, “oh I won’t recommend you for this noxious organization because I don’t support them, but feel free to come to me for a recommendation for some other job.” The issue would be, “you suck as a moral human being and I won’t help you in any way.”

    Is that how you feel about this student? Do you feel that their desire to work for an anti-choice organization says bad things about them as a moral individual? Then don’t recommend them for stuff. For any stuff. But if you don’t like this potential employer, but you think the student is great, then in my opinion you should suck it up and recommend the person for the job. You’re not endorsing the job for the person.

    1. Worker Bee (Germany)*

      And then stop to work for a catholic university since hello their morals are questionable on so many topics.

    2. Alton*

      I agree. The recommendation is ultimately about the student and what they would bring to a job/internship. It’s not really about helping the organization they’re applying for, beyond being honest.

      Actually, I think it would be more of a quandary if there was a known mismatch between the student’s values and the organization they were applying for, since that could limit their ability to do the work.

  18. TL -*

    OP4 – simply said you have a medical condition that is under control but requires regular and planned time off for medical appointments should be fine. I know lots of people who have needed similar things (for Crohn’s, MS, ect…) and they’ve always just been super matter of fact about their need for medical accommodation, especially after having the conditions for a few years.

    If you’re not fond of the 4-hr round trip, it might be worth mentioning it to your doctor; depending on their system and what they’re needing to cover in the appointment, some places have setups that allow for virtual appointments for routine stuff. It’s worth a mention to the doctor and/or nurse if you haven’t.

    Here’s hoping to 5 years of very boring appointments!

    1. another scientist*

      I agree that it should be fine. In addition to Allison’s scripts, I would purposefully use the word ‘checkup’ instead of appointment etc., which should convey that you are in control of this, and not make people worry about your dependability too much.

      1. pancakes*

        I have to be out of the office fairly routinely for doctor appointments, as I’ve been in remission from cancer a few years. It never would’ve occurred to me that “appointment” conveys a lack of control, nor that people see substantial differences between an “appointment” and a “checkup.” The idea of reading so much into that particular language in an effort to ascertain a co-worker’s health situation seems over-the-top to me. I hope and trust that for most people, either word is a fine choice and won’t lead to misguided scrutiny.

    2. London Engineer*

      This seems like the best way of approaching it to me. Assuming when you start the job you can check what the usual procedure/approval process is for taking leave and mention it then.

    3. minuteye*

      In particular, I’d be sure to frame it as “under control”. The wording in the answer to the letter (about “keeping an eye on a medical condition”) might read as though it’s a new and developing issue, which might trigger worry about the LW. You really want to convey (with tone, if nothing else), that this is a routine, expected thing (and hopefully that’s all these appointments will ever be!).

      As TL says, lots of people have medical conditions that need regular monitoring, this shouldn’t cause problems with your work at all.

    4. HS Teacher*

      I have Crohn’s, and this is what I do. I tell my admin I have Crohn’s, even though I’m not requesting an accommodation for it at this time, and that I have a standing appointment each month. I don’t have to mention the Crohn’s, but I find that mentioning it usually helps my bosses understand it is a chronic illness and I have a legit reason to be out as frequently as I am.

      It being a standing appointment makes it easier to line up coverage for the little bit of class time I miss.

  19. Joanna Lee*

    OP1, why is it against your values to write the recommendation letter for a pro-life organisation but not against your values to work for a Catholic university? Last I heard, the Catholic church was very much pro-life, no?

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Because OP likely has bills to pay, and the academic market is very tight. People have to make compromises in their work life all the time.

      1. Approval is optional*

        They do, though many would not not compromise their values to the extent that the OP is by working for an organisation that actively campaigns against the things she ‘ethically opposes’. And, if the OP is willing to compromise her values when it is to her benefit, and is not willing to make a ‘similar’ compromise when it is of benefit to others, then I would suggest that she has more than one ethical dilemma to think about.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        And the student needs to get internship experience and maybe the opportunities are very tight.

        OP #1 is a giant hypocrite.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        But the student needs an internship to advance in the world as well. So to deny her assistance, while only accepting a job at an institution you disagree with their fundamentals is outrageous hypocrisy.

        The Catholic church pays her out of the same pocketbook they pay their charity workers who run their contrary missions through. It’s essentially blood money if you want to go that far.

        And I’m a Catholic skewed person who doesn’t believe in a lot of the stuff they do. So, I distance myself frequently.

    2. Rectilinear Propagation*

      Unless the university itself is active in trying to stop people from getting abortions, this seems like it would be the same as working for any other manager or CEO who happens to be pro-life.

      1. Approval is optional*

        I don’t agree with the analogy. I’d say it’s more like working for an organisation that is a subsidiary 0f a tobacco company. Your immediate org might not be in the business of tobacco production, but you still ultimately work for a company that is.

        1. Rectilinear Propagation*

          I didn’t know that Catholic universities were actually run by the church itself. However, even with your analogy, the LW is not doing any pro-life work.

      2. mrs__peel*

        I don’t know if that’s entirely analogous (or exactly how the financing of Catholic universities works), but it’s possible that the money is pooled with a local diocese in some way that advances religious agendas.

        There are also Catholic-university-affiliated medical centers that restrict the availability of medical services based on religious doctrine (e.g., in women’s health and end-of-life care).

    3. Marthooh*

      The situations aren’t parallel, though. An intern would be working to further the ends of whatever institution employs them, but a liberal professor at a Catholic university is working to change the church’s attitudes (among other goals).

      1. NonnyGlasses*

        Catholic students attend these schools with the intention of getting a Catholic education. That’s what they want, and that’s what they pay for. To have professors “working to change the church’s attitudes” (how incredibly presumptuous) and holding orthodox beliefs against the students turns it all into a bait-and-switch, and that is unethical.

        People who cannot bring themselves not to discriminate against Catholic students for having Catholic beliefs should not take jobs at Catholic schools. How tight the job market is is neither here nor there.

        1. Name Required*

          Absolutely. This really does read as discrimination against this student’s specific beliefs, if OP would otherwise enthusiastically recommend the student.

      2. Middle School Teacher*

        As someone who has both attended and taught at Catholic schools, I can tell you pretty unequivocally that anyone who is “working to change the church’s attitudes” wouldn’t have a job for very long.

    4. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

      Does it change things if I say this is a university that is fine with me getting IVF while working there and fine with me volunteering at Planned Parenthood on my own time and does a great job supporting DACA students (which is part of my role?) I’m totally cool if you say it doesn’t change things (it’s a real question, not a defensive one!), but I’ve found a way to find areas of overlap between my values and my job.

      1. hbc*

        Honestly, the fact that they’ve been supportive of you in that way makes me think you’re *more* obligated to do the same for your student. They chose not to impose their values on you, and you should not impose your values on your student.

        1. Name Required*

          Well said. OP, not only do you work for a Catholic University, you’ve asked for them to make exceptions to their publicized moral positions for your benefit. How is your student any different?

          1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

            To be clear, I haven’t asked them to make any exceptions – I’m far from the only one who has done these things, it’s part of their HR policy to not interfere/support all their employees. (Though that still makes it a fair point that it should probably be part of my own policy to support all my students!)

            1. Name Required*

              Good luck. I’m pro-choice and I would certainly write the recommendation if I would otherwise for this student. I do think that if you decide to write the recommendation, you should also let the student know about your affiliation with Planned Parenthood and ask if it still made sense for you to recommend her, as it may negatively impact her. She might give you an out by realizing that it doesn’t make sense for you to be her recommender.

              1. OP1, Catholic University Employee*

                That’s what I’m leaning towards – she asked me right before finals so I asked her to follow up with me after they were done because it wasn’t due until February and things were a little hectic in my office. I want to make sure she still has time to find someone else if she decides not to go with me, but from reading everything I think it should be her choice, though I should give her all the information about my volunteer work!

  20. nnn*

    Possible scripting for #4, if it feels right for you: replace “medical stuff” with “follow-up appointments”. That would give the impression that they’re just making sure everything is fine, as opposed to actively treating something that’s wrong. (Not that there’s anything wrong, from the point of view of being a diligent employee, with having something medically wrong with you that needs treatment, but some employers would feel better about having a healthy employee than one who’s undergoing medical treatment.)

    Of course, some employers might also think that if it’s just a follow-up it’s less necessary than actual treatment, so, as ever, read the room before deciding which option to use.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      Agreed on wording – “follow-up appointments” is more reassuring to employer and still preserving privacy.

        1. Foreign Octopus*

          I think that “routine follow-up appointments” is a good thing, particularly if it’s said in a normal, conversational tone of voice i.e. don’t make a big deal about it: sort of like, “Oh, and another thing…”

      1. Frozen Ginger*

        Agreed. No offense to Alison but “to keep an eye on a health situation” sounds very concerning. Not that people have a right to pry, but that phrasing would make me worried about what kind of health situation they were talking about.

    2. Oxford Comma*

      I like “follow-up” appointments. It’s sounds more specific, but it’s still vague enough that you aren’t explaining more than you need to.

  21. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    OP1: Normally I’d agree with you – I don’t see the good in supporting the student’s beliefs in this arena, nor in implicitly supporting the org – but in this instance I’d argue that you already went against your beliefs when you chose to accept your job. I mean, don’t work at a conservative university and then act surprised if the people there are conservative.

    I agree with your stance, but I’d also ask you why this is the issue that’s tugging at your conscience. It’s neither the first nor the last time that this sort of thing will come up.

    1. Lilysparrow*

      Yup. I’m trying to get my head around why OP1 feels like it’s okay for them to work at an explicitly pro-life organization, and get paid for it. But it’s not okay for their student to intern at a pro-life organization, probably for free?

      I mean, does the OP see themselves as running some sort of covert scheme to thwart the Catholic Church from the inside? Or does the conflict in values only appear when there is no personal benefit?

      Either way, there are some very stretchy ethics going on here. So unless you consider the student ineligible for any recommendation, you should allow them the same exceptions or compromises you accept for yourself.

    2. I woke up like this*

      Not all Catholic universities are conservative. I wouldn’t say Georgetown is a conservative university; it certainly doesn’t have that reputation in DC.

      1. mrs__peel*

        It certainly does among people who’ve tried to access contraception and other women’s health services through the university health plan.

  22. nnn*

    Question for #1 to think about: why is the student asking you for a recommendation, as opposed to any other prof?

    Are you the prof who taught them the most relevant subject? Are you the department head? Are you the prof who gave them the highest mark? Have they asked every other prof and they all said no? Are you the first prof they talked to after finding out they needed a recommendation? Is the organization asking for a recommendation from every single prof they’ve ever had?

    I think you need this information to make a fully-informed decision about what exactly you would be providing or denying the student.

    At a minimum, you could say outright to your student “I’m certainly able to write a positive recommendation about your work, but I have serious qualms about this organization. Are there any other profs you can ask?” And then see what the student has to say in response.

  23. Castaspella*

    LW3 – I sit next to a man who whispers his emails to himself repeatedly before sending them, complete with the name of the recipient. It’s particularly distracting when he’s sending one to me and keeps whispering my name but isn’t actually speaking to me.

    It gives me the heebie-jeebies.

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Sounds like a strategy to make sure he catches typos and other editing issues before clicking “send.” Had a cube neighbor one time whose job involved a lot of copywriting, and he’d do the same before he submitted his work for approval.

      1. Castaspella*

        Yeah, I think that’s exactly what it is, but it still drives me nuts! I’ve taken to wearing headphones a lot of the time to drown it all out.

        Did you not find it irritating or distracting?

    2. lw3*

      LOL that sounds horrible. my boss does something similar, in speaking softly to herself when she’s trying to think. It really only bothers me when it is directed at me though. I cringe thinking about it!

  24. London Engineer*

    OP5, I can’t add much to what Alison said but you have my sympathies – the company are essentially springing a bill on you after the fact, which you probably wouldn’t have bothered going if you had known you would have to pay. Are many of you colleagues also hourly/booking timesheets in this way? If so you may have better luck if all of you can push back in a consistent way. I am in a position where I have to fill out a timesheet for a nominal 40hrs but it is accepted that there is a certain amount of fudging around compulsory briefings and other enforced events in work hours – and if that isn’t available the company/my manager accepts that our time has to be booked as non-billable

    1. WellRed*

      I am wondering if it’s simply an overly rigid HR rep saying “rules!” When in actuality, of course the party was on paid company time.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        Does anyone else remember the letter from ages ago about a woman who was being nickled and dimed on her travel allowance and flights? She was being hauled up for getting extra guac or something, and the guy wanted her to fly out at 5am or something.

        The situation with OP5 might very well be someone who is taking the RULES a little too far and it’s worth pushing back on just for that.

        1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

          Foreign Octopus is on to something. I think this could also be a case of random [stuff] between HR and the department head that is rolling downhill onto your shoes. Does your head of department know you’re being dinged for the outing? I’d be sending an email to him/her along the lines of “Something unexpected happened today. HR told me I needed to make up the time for our holiday gathering. Is this normal protocol?” Report back on your department head’s answer, please!

          1. Ama*

            I agree. When I worked at a university where time off, payroll, and accounts payable were handled by one central office, there were a lot of miscommunications where a Dean or department head would tell their staff to put in for time off or reimbursement for something that would then get denied by the central accounting office. Usually going back to the Dean (or their assistant) and telling them what was happening would result in getting it sorted out — sometimes it was because the Dean’s approval had been communicated to the head of accounting but not passed down to the staff actually approving the requests, sometimes it was someone being overly rigid about documentation (i.e. they wanted a letter on letterhead instead of an email), and sometimes it was because the Dean had forgotten to check with accounting at all, which usually resulted in having to broker some kind of compromise that didn’t punish the staff for the Dean’s mistake.

    2. EPLawyer*

      If the company doesn’t want people taking time off during the day without making it up, don’t schedule official functions during the work day. If the company does do that, then it’s paid.

    3. Alton*

      Yeah, I’m curious how many of the employees are required to account for their hours. Sometimes when an entire office is non-exempt except for a couple people, things like this can be overlooked when planning events. Either way, I think it’s annoying for the company to spring this on people, and to put them in a position where they couldn’t attend the party without having to make up time at work or use their leave. I feel like the main benefit to having the party at 4 instead of at 5 or 6 (assuming the workday typically ends at 5) is let people essentially stop work an hour early or avoid having to stay after work, and if people have to make up the time, that benefit is kind of moot.

      1. OP5*

        We all have to log every moment, in order to bill the right client. My mistake was I logged my hours early, got rejected, told everyone, and they padded that hour onto a client. So now I look like the diva who asked for an hour to attend a work event.

        1. CM*

          Ugh, that’s not fair. (To anyone, including the clients!) Can you talk to the department head who organized the party?

        2. Shocked and confused*

          Okay, this means your co-workers are lying to and stealing from clients. You have righteousness on your side. Sometimes, doing the right thing is painful and frustrating. You don’t look like a diva, you look like an honest person. Don’t let the liars and thieves corrupt you.

        3. KimberlyR*

          Have you spoken to your direct supervisor about it? This doesn’t make sense and definitely seems like something to push back on. I agree with others-if they wanted you to attend a work social event during work hours, they needed to make that arrangement happen themselves. You don’t look like a diva, at least not from the outside. You just got unlucky when you submitted your time.

        4. Adjunctifunky*

          Are there shenanigans in other arenas that might look like part of a larger pattern now? This would make me take a closer look at my experiences and just sort of pay more attention now.

        5. Observer*

          So the solution your coworkers took was to lie on their timesheets? And *you* look like the Diva? That’s beyond messed up.

          Talk to your direct supervisor. He knows that those timesheets are padded, so it’s not even like you’re telling him something he doesn’t already know about your coworkers.

        6. Happy Lurker*

          I second talking to either your boss, the party organizer who asked people to RSVP 3 times or some other party higher up on the chain. Hopefully, someone is understanding of this situation and can make an arrangement for you not to make this time up. Or to make the time up like every one else did.

          I used to work as a contractor and this exact situation came up for our first holiday party. We bit the bullet and took PTO, but learned for the next 4 years.

          1. OP5*

            I did talk to the department head who invited us, but he too said we had to make up the time. I did. But I’m really resentful.

            1. Sally*

              I would be, too! They’ve created a situation where everyone knows that the bosses are at least thoughtless and can’t be trusted to be fair, and at least one person is resentful. This does not make people want to continue working there.

    4. LabTechNoMore*

      My company tried something similar – in our case because of an overzealous (read: tyrannical) HR department. CEO let us off early the day before a holiday; the following Monday, HR sent out an email saying to adjust our timesheets accordingly – meaning our pay was being docked for being told to take out early.

      If yours manager is reasonable, see what their take on it is.

  25. Phil*

    LW1 – I guess what I’m seeing from the comments is, a professor is under no obligation to give letters of recommendation, and so it’s okay to say no here. I’m anti-abortion, so I don’t necessarily agree, but that’s their right.
    However, I do wonder if the end result would be the same if, say, a conservative Christian professor declined to write a letter of recommendation for someone wishing to intern for an LGBTQ organisation, as that goes against their beliefs. If you’re totally okay with that, then fine. Otherwise we’re looking at another gay wedding cake double standard, where privately owned bakeries MUST bake gay wedding cakes against their beliefs, but privately owned Youtube is totes cool to ban conservatives they disagree with.

    1. The Original Stellaaaaa*

      Buncha straw men. No one who wants to intern for a LGBTQ org would ask a known conservative prof for a letter of recommendation. Very few people in the situation in the letter (a student at a catholic college) would want to intern at a LGBTQ org in the first place.

      Also, the legal system and like, basic humanity demand that we see certain viewpoints as more correct than others. Not every opinion held by everyone should be afforded equal weight.

      I remain firm in my stance that OP needs to do some soul searching regarding her current place of employment, but we’re on a site run by someone who has been arrested for standing up for her principles. I wouldn’t encourage OP to throw away her job willy nilly, but she’s not wrong to think about taking a stand here. Should we always kowtow to the terrible beliefs of our employers?

      And imo it’s not about the student either. Personally, I don’t mind standing in the way of someone’s dream of working to harm others. That’s not a student worth supporting and I’ll end this thought here.

      1. Mobuy*

        Great. Another person who thinks their way is right, the other side is morally abhorrent, and compromise and empathy are only for the other side. No wonder Congress and our country are such a mess.

        Look, you can have your point of view. But when you categorically dismiss the other side like this, we are going to feel ignored and denigrated (basket of deplorables, anyone?). That’s how you get Trump–by making the other side feel like even reasonable people on the other side think you are evil. People who are pro life aren’t evil! They think abortion is killing babies. If you can’t meet them there, why should they met you anywhere at all?

        I am reluctantly pro choice before 20 weeks. If we were to meet in real life, I could have a pleasant conversation with you about it. Could you with me? Based on your comment, I doubt it.

      2. mcr-red*

        I’m sorry, but how is this not like the wedding cake thing? Couple wants to purchase a cake, baker says no I’m not going to because I don’t support you getting married. In this case, student wants a recommendation, professor says no I’m not going to because I don’t support you working there.

        In both cases, wedding cake and job recommendation, I think the baker/professor need to shut up and do it.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          Partly because letters of rec are service for a professor- they’re required to do some service, but they can largely pick and choose what acts of service they’d like to perform. Additionally, if you recall, the baker won the case.

          1. TreeSilver*

            The baker won the case based on a finding that the state committee treated him unfairly, NOT that he had the right to refuse to provide equal service under the law to members of certain minority groups as he does to a majority group.

      3. Marthooh*

        “Very few people in the situation in the letter (a student at a catholic college) would want to intern at a LGBTQ org in the first place.”

        What makes you think so? I attended a college whose Catholicity did not, in fact, prevent students from being LGBT or Q. Admittedly, that was a long time ago, and the church heirarchy seems more conservative these days, but if you want to find queer activist Catholics, a university seems like the place to go.

      4. nnn*

        Actually, your mention of “known conservative prof” raises another question: does the student know that LW would find the anti-abortion organization objectionable?

        Depending on the subject they teach and the sorts of things that come up in the classroom, they might not (in which case, perhaps they should be given full disclosure and the option of seeking a more enthusiastic reference, if one is available)

        When I think back to my professors (and my managers, for that matter), some of them I knew their politics, others I didn’t. Some of them I thought I knew their politics based on their field or the work they did, but in some cases I was wrong. Then I found myself wondering “Why would a person who thinks caffeine should be banned even enter the field of teapot-making in the first place???” But, nevertheless, there they were.

      1. Mookie*

        This is actually a great micro-practicum in the critical thinking we’re always told spoiled uni kids lack: do I want a reference from someone less than fit to advocate on my behalf to an organization they oppose, or are there better options for me?

    2. Recovering journalist*

      It is different because one stance is science- and evidence-based and one is purely moral. Depending on the area of study, it is logical that a professor would withhold a recommendation for work at a organization that was anti-science and anti-evidence.

    3. TreeSilver*

      The example you give as a double standard isn’t one. Being conservative is not a protected class or status.

    4. Sunshine*

      There are a lot of false equivalences and inaccuracies in that comment. The correct analogy, made by others would be whether it would be ok for a Christian professor to decline to write a recc for a pro choice org. Imo yes it would be ok.

      In the U.K. discriminating in the form of denying goods or services to someone on the basis of their sexual orientation is (quite rightly) illegal. YouTube, as a private company, choosing to remove conservative content is entirely their right. Choosing to be a conservative and being born gay are not remotely analogous. And this is even more foolish considering that LGBT content on YouTube is banned and demonetised all the time.

  26. Namey McNameface*

    LW5: Your employer is being ridiculous and stingy. Of course people would understandably presume functions during working hours won’t be docked from PTO. If your company is going to go against the norm and require staff to make up time, they should be up front about it so people can have the option of declining.

    Your HR sucks.

  27. TL -*

    LW#2 – there is a documented thing where men tend to confide in and look for emotional support from the women (or woman) in their life and since you were supportive during his wife passing, he might have just moved you into the category of “Woman Who Provides Emotional Support” because of gendered assumptions about how the world works.
    He probably doesn’t realize he’s doing it because he’s so conditioned to think that women provide emotional support automatically when he needs it. Thus, he may not realize the difference between “boss who was supportive during exceptionally difficult time” and “woman is my emotional support.” This doesn’t make him a bad person or anything! Just it’s highly likely he’s put zero thought into this aspect of the relationship because it’s aligning with his view of how the world works.

    Which doesn’t change the advice – you need to redirect him and set clear boundaries – but it might help to understand why he would think this is appropriate. And when you redirect, he will reach out to other, more appropriate people and find that support outside of the workplace.

    1. MLB*

      I don’t think it’s a gender thing here. I think it’s happening because she was there for him when his wife was sick and dying, so he’s assuming that they have the kind of relationship where he can speak to her about his personal life. I would think the same thing as a woman, regardless of the gender of my boss. If they gave me no indication of feeling uncomfortable talking about a difficult time with a personal relationship, then to me any relationship talk would be fair game. She needs to establish clear boundaries if it bothers her, because subtle hints aren’t working.

      1. GhostWriter*

        I dunno–I think there’s a big difference between talking to your boss about a relationship where you’re the caretaker of a significant other who is very ill/disabled and talking about someone you just started dating. In the former situation you might need flexibility in your work schedule or more time off so you’d *have* to talk to your boss about it at some point, whereas the latter is stuff that shouldn’t affect your work at all and that your boss doesn’t need to know about. Seems odd to me that getting support from a boss during a very difficult time would create the expectation that they’d provide support for run of the mill dating worries too.

        It being a gendered thing makes sense to me because I’ve had guys (including ones I don’t know well at all) approach me to ask for advice on their relationships and dating specifically because I’m a woman (they’ve made comments about how I would know how women think or what they like since I am one). So if she’s the only woman (or one of very few) in their small office, her gender might make her the default person for him to talk to.

    2. Boss in OP2*

      Thanks – this well may be part of it, and he is old enough and set in his ways enough that that sounds about right. I’ll keep it in mind as I am redirecting him.

    3. wheelwrite*

      Yes, I agree this is likely to be part of it.

      More to the point, he lost a mate,a woman he probably confided in daily for decades, just 18 months ago, and LW is about his age. That is not a long time for this kind of loss! He probably has almost no one to talk to and dating now is kind of a huge rabbit hole of new emotions and situations. This, while getting conditioned to relate to women as the people who process feelings and confidences, is a major contributing factor.

      Due to an extensive personal background with grief support, I would suggest that and then move away from the counselor type, but how or whether LW can even begin to suggest that is a whole other issue. (I’m also a woman and have to shut down situations wherein men want me to be their constant life counselor.) Since LW wants to firm up a boundary, not show more care, I’m not sure that’s something she can tell him.

      Having navigated a few losses and helped loved ones do the same, I would be sorely tempted to say, “All of these emotions and thoughts you’re having aren’t really something I should be exploring with you as your manager, but honestly, I know from experience with [someone? someone’s widowed friend?] that it’s very normal for this to be emotionally intense and confusing. I really want to encourage you to find a grief group, counselor, or just a per who has had this experience, where you can talk about dating after loss. It’s huge, I know, but I can’t do this at work and still be a manager.”

      That is likely way too much under the circumstances, but maybe there’s a “lighter” way to deliver such a message? Without another outlet, this is going to be hard to keep at bay.

  28. Fifi*

    University teacher here.

    Your views on the matter are irrelevant but The schools views on the matter are not.

    I would hold off giving a reference before Getting advice from your own superior.

  29. Rectilinear Propagation*

    …even when no calls are happening or just minutes earlier, others in our office were having a conversation at a normal volume.
    #3 – But that’s precisely the problem: it’s quiet in the moment your boss needs to get your attention. If there were already some sort of noise they probably wouldn’t whisper but they’re probably uncomfortable breaking the silence after everyone else has finished talking. If I’m right they may need some time to fix this habit but it shouldn’t be a big deal once you ask them not to.

    #4 – I don’t have much to add except that this has worked for me twice in my personal experience. They were shorter absences but more frequent. A reasonable manager won’t insist on more information beyond it being for a medical issue.

    #5 – Is there any chance HR might have gotten this wrong? Or at least, possibly the department head thought you’d be able to get the last hour covered? I would double check with your manager (I’m not sure if there’s any layers between you and the department head) as to whether they expected this to count as personal time or not. It could be that they felt everyone should have known this would require PTO but it might be that there was a breakdown in communication.

    1. OP5*

      I did finally check with our dept head, but got the same answer—to make up my time. Merry Christmas, right?

      1. Gandalf the Nude*

        I might have missed where you answered this elsewhere, but 1) are you an hourly non-exempt employee and 2) did the party occur in the same week that they’re now telling you to make up the time (I’m guessing no since usually timesheets are submitted when the period in question is over)? If you’re non-exempt, those hours can’t be made up across work weeks, so most likely they’d owe you overtime for the make up work. And even if you’re not, can you do the same sketchy padding onto clients this week that your colleagues did last week?

        1. OP5*

          I am not an hourly employee, I’m salaried. I think the issue is they don’t want EVEN ONE HOUR to not be billed to a client. My problem is I feel very uncomfortable padding my sheet and billing a client for work I didn’t do. I know people do it but it makes me feel terrible. And yes, they told me I had to make up my time on a Friday, so I had to get that hour in either on Friday or over the weekend.

          I did it. I resent it. But I did it.

          1. Pomona Sprout*

            ” I think the issue is they don’t want EVEN ONE HOUR to not be billed to a client. ”

            I haven’t worked in an industry in which billable hours are a thing, but that sounds kind of shady to me. Maybe it’s just my inexperience with this kind of a … system (?), but I don’t understand how absolutely every single thing that takes place in an office can legitimately be billed to a specific client.

            If anyone here who is experienced with billable hours would care to weigh in, I’d be most grateful for any insight you can provide.

            1. LJay*

              It’s a problem in a lot of types of positions.

              I went to school for speech pathology, and this came up a lot in my discussions with clinicians who worked in rehab facilities.

              The powers that be wanted every hour they worked to be a billable hour, or at least a very high percentage.

              However, there are a lot of things that you do that are not direct client interaction and therefore are not billable. Administrative work. Going to the bathroom. Ordering supplies. Reviewing information.

              They were caught between either lying to pad their billable hours by billing things that were not actually billable, working for free, or getting disciplined for not meeting their billable hour percentages.

            2. pancakes*

              I’ve worked in lots of places where I’ve had to bill my time to clients. In every single one there have been ways to bill time not spent on client work to the office—a catch-all admin category, and other, more specific categories for other occasions (training, IT-related downtime, etc.).

            3. zapateria la bailarina*

              at my husband’s office, there is a departmental option for billing. so if you’ve been doing work that isn’t for a specific client, you just bill it to your department.

          2. Rectilinear Propagation*

            That is super gross. That’s also a really good way to make sure no one works a second more than 40 hours a week if they can avoid it.

            FWIW, I agree with you about not just charging the party time to a client. That’s the sort of thing that’s in our ethics training.

        1. Luke*

          I am wondering if this is a government contractor thing. Government employees are actually specifically cautioned against inviting contractor personnel to office functions or even saying or writing anything that might give the contractor employee the impression that they are expected/required to attend the party. Government employees can’t just tell the contractors to show up to the office party and consider it time on the clock, and can’t tell them to do anything if they are off the clock. The contract company has to decide if they will let their employees attend on company time (and then eat the cost of those hours rather than billing them to the government) or authorize unpaid leave for those who want to attend, or what-have-you.

      1. zapateria la bailarina*

        yep, i would pretend i couldn’t hear her ( i’m assuming she’ll raise her voice to get your attention)

        probably not the most mature response but i’ve done something similar when i have headphones on and people start talking to me without first getting my attention so i can take them off and listen

    1. Lexi Kate*

      This or act like you think he is asking you out and in a normal tone that others can hear I’m seeing someone/Married/not interested. When they say they were not asking you out, ask why they are whispering. Hopefully that lets him know its weird.

      Or my husband said to give him the “What is wrong with you” look and and ask why are you whispering its so creepy.

      1. London Engineer*

        What? This is a really over the top response and there is no need to be this antagonistic. I find whispering annoying too but I don’t think it is creepy or sexually suggestive and publicly calling it out as such is likely to reflect badly on the LW.

        1. CM*

          I agree, this suggestion is weirdly manipulative and brings drama into the situation that wasn’t there.

          Just say, “For some reason, whispering bothers me — can you say my name out loud instead?”

  30. Emily*

    Unless there was more detail in LW 1’s email that was cut, I don’t think we should automatically assume they’re professor. Lots of staff are asked to write recommendations and I do think you potentially have a bit more pushback, if you’re in a position where you’re not writing a large number of letters regularly.