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Letters of Evaluation


Photo by Robert A. Lisak

Letters of evaluation (also known as “referee letters”) are a valued component of the review process for appointments and promotions of faculty to advanced rank (i.e., Associate and full Professor on ladder, voluntary, or adjunct ranks; Research Scientist and Senior Research Scientist). They are used to assess how experts and leaders view the candidate’s accomplishments, expertise, and impact on a field. At the department’s discretion, letters of evaluation also may be considered in the reappointment process for faculty with term limits. The procedures described here do not apply to initial appointments at the rank of Instructor, Lecturer, Clinical Instructor, Associate Research Scientist, or Assistant Professor (on the ladder, adjunct, voluntary, or social work ranks).

Selection of Referees


Referees should be recognized experts in research, education, and/or clinical service in the field of the candidate being evaluated. If the candidate has a very highly specialized focus, experts in more general areas of research, education, and/or clinical service may be sought in addition to those in the candidate’s specialized area of focus.

Requisite Rank

It is expected that referees are experts who hold positions equivalent to or higher than the rank proposed for appointment/promotion. In most cases, this means that letters for Associate Professor reviews (whether ladder, adjunct, or voluntary) come from Associate or full Professors, and letters for Professor reviews come from Professors. For research rank faculty, evaluations for Research Scientist reviews can come from ladder faculty who are at least Assistant Professor or from scientists with at least mid-level appointment/title at their institution. Senior Research Scientist letters can come from ladder faculty who are at least Associate Professor or from scientists with a senior-level appointment/title at their institution.

Although most letters of evaluation must come from faculty at or above the rank being considered, occasional exceptions are permitted. For all appointments and promotions, at the discretion of the Chair, a maximum of two (2) Arm’s-Length or Non-Arm’s-Length referees can be non-faculty senior experts or authorities in the candidate’s field, such as:

  • Senior scientists at non-university affiliated institutes, industry, or Federal agencies
  • Presidents or chief executives of health systems or national professional organizations
  • Senior leaders of State or Federal government agencies highly relevant to academic medicine

In addition, at the discretion of the Chair, for Academic Clinician and Voluntary track reviews, a maximum of two (2) Arm’s-Length or Non-Arm’s-Length referees can be solicited who do not hold an academic appointment or senior leadership position (e.g., a referring physician), but who are experts able to provide valid evaluations of clinical or educational excellence and professionalism.

Department and Candidate Suggestions

Each candidate collaborates with their departmental leaders, mentors, and colleagues to develop a pool of potential referees to include on the Referee List Template, separately as Department-suggested and Candidate-suggested. Candidates are allowed to communicate to their department the names of faculty in their field who should not be contacted due to professional conflict that might undermine a fair evaluation.

Under no circumstance may the candidate communicate with a referee about the letter of evaluation process. If the candidate is contacted by the referee, they should communicate the strict school policy prohibiting communication about their promotion review and should not provide further information to the referee beyond what was included in the Interfolio case provided to the reviewer.

Notably, all Department-suggested referees should be Arm’s-Length while Candidate-suggested referees are a blend of Arm’s-Length and Non-Arm’s-Length (see section below on the distinction between these two categories of referees).

Number of Letters

The required number and type of referees for each rank and track suggested by the Department and the Candidate are indicated in the tables at the bottom of this page. There are specific numbers required for solicitation and a specific subset that must be received for the academic review to proceed.

The number listed for initial solicitation is the minimum required by OAPD. Faculty and their Department are strongly advised to create a longer or secondary list of referees for the Referee List Template who can be solicited if a number of reviewers are not available. Departments having ready a back-up list of additional names and contact information will help reduce delays in receiving the requisite number of referees to conduct the review.

Arm’s-Length vs. Non-Arm’s-Length Referees

Overarching Principles

The question of whether a referee will be considered impartial (Arm’s-Length) usually can be determined by answers to two general questions:

  • Does the referee have a past or present professional and/or personal relationship with the faculty candidate that could impact their actual or perceived ability to provide an impartial review?
  • Could the referee or their program be perceived as benefitting from a successful (or unsuccessful) outcome of the faculty candidate's review?

If the faculty candidate and department believe that answers to both questions above are definitely No, then it is usually appropriate to categorize them as Arm’s-Length. If the answer to both questions is a definite Yes, then they should be considered Non-Arm’s-Length. If one answer is Yes and the other No or there is any uncertainty about how to answer either question, please review what follows for guidance. Under no circumstance should the faculty candidate or department reach out to a referee and ask whether they would consider themselves impartial or to discuss any aspect of the review process.

Typical Characteristics of Non-Arm’s-Length Referees

It is sometimes difficult to determine whether a referee’s relationship with the faculty candidate or connection to their work could bias them in a way that would interfere with an unbiased, impartial, or Arm’s-Length evaluation. It sometimes also can be difficult to predict whether or how a referee or their program might benefit from the faculty candidate's career advancement. To help with that determination, the following are lists of relationships that generally exclude a referee from being Arm’s-Length, although they can still provide a valuable Non-Arm’s-Length evaluation:

  • Close personal and/or other current professional relationship
  • Direct or primary supervisor, advisor, or mentor during training
  • Thesis or dissertation advisor or committee member
  • Co-editor or Co-author of a book
  • Current Yale faculty from another department (see Note at bottom of this section)
With the exceptions described below*, the following relationships also typically define a Non-Arm’s-Length referee:
  • Co-author of a journal article, book chapter, or other scholarly product**
  • Collaborator on a clinical or educational program, initiative, or product**
  • Co-presenter of a conference paper or poster
  • Co-PI, Co-I, or other named collaborator on a grant or contract
  • Secondary mentor/mentee, advisor/advisee, or peer during training
  • Instructor, co-instructor, or student in a course
  • Chair or colleague from a previous department or school
*If 10 or more years have elapsed since the faculty candidate worked together in any of the preceding capacities AND the referee will likely consider themselves currently able to provide an unbiased or impartial evaluation with no benefit to them or their institution from the outcome, they can be listed on your Referee List Template as Arm’s-Length. In the 5th column of that form, include a brief mention of their ‘distance-in-time’ relationship.

**In addition to the 10+ year exception, if the only relationship is as more recent co-authors or collaborators on a very large (e.g., >25 listed contributors) research consortium paper, educational product, consensus guideline, or committee report, the referee can be listed on your Referee List Template as Arm’s-Length. In the 5th column of that form, include a brief mention of their ‘limited-in-scope’ relationship.

Typical Characteristics of Arm’s-Length Referees

In the absence of roles or relationships listed under Non-Arm's-Length (and with the exceptions noted overall for ‘distance-in-time’* and specifically for ‘limited-in-scope,’** an Arm’s-Length referee is a recognized expert in the candidate's field who is able to provide an unbiased or impartial review and may have one or more of the following qualities:

  • Never known, met, or worked with faculty candidate
  • From a different institution with knowledge of faculty candidate' area(s) of expertise
  • Met or interacted with faculty candidate at professional meetings
  • Read, seen, or reviewed faculty candidate's scholarship, grants, presentations, or group contributions
  • Served together on study sections or committees in a professional organization
  • Editorial board appointments as member, Associate Editor, or Editor-in-Chief
  • Editor of a book in which a chapter was published
  • Peer reviewer of book manuscript, journal article, grant, or conference submission
  • Co-participant or discussant in a conference panel or symposium
  • Guest or invited speaker in a seminar, workshop, or Grand Rounds
  • Former faculty colleague without direct clinical, teaching, or scholarly collaboration
  • Referring patients between faculty candidate for consultation or treatment

Note about letters from Yale faculty

Faculty from other Yale departments (including those with a secondary appointment in faculty candidates department) can provide Non-Arm’s-Length letters of evaluations for review. In addition, at the discretion of your Department Chair, up to half of the Non-Arm’s-Length evaluations considered for Academic Clinician, Clinician Educator-Scholar, and Voluntary (Clinical) track reviews may be completed by faculty from the candidate's own department at or above the proposed rank who have direct knowledge of faculty candidate's clinical or educational skills, expertise, leadership, or professionalism.

Referee Requirements:

  • Must be at or above the rank being considered for new appointment or promotion. Internal department referees are not exempted from the rank requirement allowed in some other cases.
  • Must have observed the clinical and/or educational activities of the candidate and have knowledge about the candidate’s area of specialization and skill.

Referee Solicitation and A&P Voting:

  • Faculty considered for inclusion as referees on the Referee List Template cannot be approached or queried beforehand on their willingness to write an evaluation.
  • Referees included on the Referee List Template cannot be listed on the top of this form as one of the faculty consulted about the development of the referee list.
  • Referees who submit a letter of evaluation cannot serve as a member of any smaller ad hoc or ad personam committee that may be formed by a department as part of its overall Appointment and Promotion (A&P) review procedures.
  • Referees who submit a letter of evaluation may participate in the formal departmental A&P review discussion and clarify any aspect of their written evaluation or opinion. However, they must declare themselves as ineligible to vote and be excluded from the total count. They should not vote to Abstain as any Abstain vote is counted as a No vote in the total.
Maximum Number of Internal Department Referees
  • Up to half of Non-Arm’s-Length referees can be from the same primary department for the following ranks and tracks. In other words:
    • Maximum of 2 for Associate Professor or Professor reviews on the Academic Clinician Track
    • Maximum of 1 for Associate Professor reviews on the Clinician Educator-Scholar Track
    • Maximum of 1 for Associate Clinical Professor and 2 for Clinical Professor for Voluntary faculty reviews
Note: There is no limit on the number of Non-Arm’s-Length letters received from faculty whose primary appointment is in another department at YSM or other schools of Yale University. Candidates for appointment and promotion are encouraged to identify Yale-affiliated referees when they can provide meaningful evaluations of clinical, educational, and research skills, achievements, and reputation. If a referee chosen has a secondary appointment in the candidate’s primary department where secondary appointees are invited to vote, they may attend and participate in the Departmental A&P discussion, but must identify themselves as ineligible to vote similar to what is described above.

Letters of Evaluation By Track

Investigator Track

Investigator Track Reference Letter Requirements
Rank Letter Solicited by Number to be Solicited Recommended by Department Recommended by Candidate Minimum Required with Packet
Assistant Professor Chair 3 NA 3 arm's-length or non-arm's-length 3
Associate Professor Chair 10 5 arm’s-length 5: 2 arm’s-length
3 non-arm’s length
6: of which 4 arm’s-length
Professor Dean 12 6 arm’s-length 6: 2 arm’s-length
4 non-arm’s-length
8: of which 6 are arm’s-length