Would a professor send a recommendation letter whether good or bad to the grad university or the research summer program I am applying to without my permission? if she did not like me in her lab for example, and I did not ask for her recommendation letter after I left the lab, is she allowed to send a warning to the university of the program I am applying to? I will be having other 3 good/strong recommendation letters that I have given my consent for the profs to write. I will not give my consent to her, so is it possible that she might still warn the university? or is it not possible? If so, will the university take her opinion or will refuse it since i did not waive my rights to her?

  • Some countries (e.g. the US) have privacy laws that would generally forbid the professor from sending a recommendation without your consent. Or, at the very least, such a letter could not contain anything that would constitute an "educational record", which would apply to anything of substance the professor could say about your studies. Nov 23, 2023 at 1:01

2 Answers 2


In my recent (last 10-15 years') experience, in the U.S., in mathematics, there would simply be no way for anyone to inject an unsolicited letter into your application file.

The way it works nowadays is that you list the people whose letters will support you, and they are contacted by email, with passwords, etc., to get into the relatively secure application system, and give their comments.

A person not invited by you has no good entry into the system.

Yes, they could email faculty at the other university and say negative things about you... But they could not create a "bad recommendation letter".

And, if I received a negative email about an applicant, from someone I didn't know, I would be inclined to think that they (a) did not understand how things work, and, (b) had some sort of irrational grudge...

Even if I got an email from a person I know and trust, saying negative things about an applicant, I would be (negatively) surprised that they were trying to achieve an effect outside the standard channels.


I'll focus on "bad" letters and communications.

This might depend on the country's (or other political entity) laws and regulations, but it would be highly unethical for a professor to independently subvert the application of a student. Such things as student misconduct (if that is alleged), when important, are handled within the university and (one hopes) appropriate action taken there, and settled.

It would probably also be improper for the receiving university to consider it and the processes don't normally allow such things. But it is impossible to say what sorts of communication flows between colleagues at different institutions.

It would be, in my opinion and US perspective, grounds for tenure revocation or, at least, a reprimand. It would also take an especially vindictive person to do such a thing.

I think the risk of this happening is small.

  • Do you mean the risk that the professor might take to send a bad rec letter without consent? like the probability that this happen is small?
    – sallylnny
    Nov 22, 2023 at 21:36
  • 1
    Edited to clarify.
    – Buffy
    Nov 22, 2023 at 21:41

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