A key part of the tenure process is for outside experts to evaluate the candidate’s research (hard to evaluate their teaching and service from outside).  These letters can be quite handy for getting a less biased perspective that a department might have (in either direction).  It is especially useful for providing insights in cases where the candidate’s subfield is under or unrepresented among the senior faculty evaluating tenure (a real life example:  no tenured political theorists and the candidate is a theorist). 

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