Few organizations have as high a concentration of people with advanced degrees as colleges and universities.
People with doctorates insure that debates and decision making will be tedious and laborious; however, those decisions are as negatively influenced by tradition and biases as you can find anywhere, regardless of how well educated everyone is.
One of the greatest examples of the failures of higher education is the use of student evaluations of teaching (SET), a traditional system whereby students offer feedback on their professors and then those evaluations serve in different ways during the annual evaluations of professors as well as the tenure and promotion process.
What is the problem? Well, this is an example of tradition trumping evidence (and, again, you’d think well educated people would prefer evidence over the inertia of tradition) because research for many years has shown that SET are biased against the most marginalized groups of faculty—women, people of color, international faculty, etc.
Once again, two studies confirm the inherent bias of SET, as reported by Colleen Flaherty:
Two new studies on gender bias in student evaluations of teaching look at the phenomenon from fresh—and troubling—angles. One study surveyed students at the beginning of the semester and after their first exam and found that female instructors faced more backlash for grades given than did male instructors. The other study examined how ageism relates to gender bias in student ratings, finding that older female instructors were rated lower than younger women. The second study was longitudinal, so students were rating the same women more poorly over time, even as these professors were gaining teaching experience.
Both studies suggest that as women become more “agentic,” demonstrating agency via stereotypically male-associated traits, they are punished for violating gender norms with lower student ratings.Ratings and Gender Bias, Over Time
These studies have some nuances, but essentially, this fits into a very robust body of research that shows SET is harmful for faculty diversity, and thus, for students and colleges/universities:
- Boring, A., Ottoboni, K., & Stark, P.B. (2016, January 7). Student evaluations of teaching (mostly) do not measure teaching effectiveness. ScienceOpen Research.
- Uttl, B., White, C.A., & Gonzalez, D.W. (2017, September). Meta-analysis of faculty’s teaching effectiveness: Student evaluation of teaching ratings and student learning are not related. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 54, 22-42.
- MacNell, L., Driscoll, A. & Hunt, A.N. (2015). What’s in a Name: Exposing Gender Bias in Student Ratings of Teaching. Innovative Higher Education, 40(4), 291–303. doi:10.1007/s10755-014-9313-4
- Student evaluations of teaching are not only unreliable, they are significantly biased against female instructors, Anne Boring, Kellie Ottoboni, and Philip B. Stark, LSE Impact Blog
- How Student Evaluations Are Skewed against Women and Minority Professors
- New study could be another nail in the coffin for the validity of student evaluations of teaching
- New analysis offers more evidence against student evaluations of teaching
- Study finds gender perception affects evaluations
- Academic sexism: Research suggests students are biased against female lecturers
- Student evaluations can’t be used to assess professors. They’re discriminatory
- Gender Bias in Student Evaluations, Kristina M. W. Mitchell and Jonathan Martin
- Most institutions say they value teaching but how they assess it tells a different story
- Kelly-Woessner, A., & Woessner, M. (2006). My professor is a partisan hack: How perceptions of a professor’s political views affect student course evaluations. PS: Political Science and Politics, 39(3), 495-501. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20451790
- Speaking Out Against Student Evals
- Statement on Student Evaluations of Teaching, American Sociological Association, September 2019
- The Weaponization of Student Evaluations of Teaching: Bullying and the Undermining of Academic Freedom, Jason Rodriguez
- Ratings and Gender Bias, Over Time (IHE)
- Evaluation of Women in Economics: Evidence of Gender Bias Following Behavioral Role Violations (2022), Whitney Buser, Cassondra L. Batz-Barbarich and Jill Kearns Hayter
We are well past time to set SET aside, and admit that tradition is not a valid reason to continue to erode efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion through rhetoric alone.