Bias in Student Evaluations

Basow, S.A. & Martin, J.L. (2012). Bias in student evaluations. In M. E. Kite(Ed), Effective evaluations of teaching: A guide for faculty and administrators. Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

Some of our classroom conversations and blog posts have revolved around the topic of course evaluation and their importance in the promotion and tenure process of faculty. I found an interesting article that highlighted some of the existing research about race, gender, age and physical attractiveness bias and how they affect students’ overall perception of their faculty and how it could potentially play out in evaluations. Here are just a few (but significant) nuggets taken from the article:
• Cultural stereotypes that surround gender and race may influence the expectations of faculty members. Examples of this are the expectation that women are
going to be more nurturing than men and that minorities and women are going to be less intelligent than their white male counterparts. (Biernant, Fuegen & Kobrynowicz, 2010).
• Students tend to perceive things like grading harshly, asserting authority in the classroom and not accepting student excuses more negatively coming from women and faculty of color than they will from white, male faculty. (Biernant, Fuegen & Kobrynowicz, 2010 )
• Male faculty members tend to be rated similarly by both male and female students but women are rated lower by male students and the lowest ratings are of those female faculty who teach in business and engineering (Basow & Montgomery, 2005).
• Discipline does matter. Humanities professors tend to get higher ratings while natural science professors get the lowest rating. Female faculty members are rated lower by their male students but in the natural sciences, male and female students both rate their female professor lower than their male faculty (Basnow & Montgomery, 2005).
• Faculty who teach diversity based courses receive lower evaluations in those courses than any other courses at an institution. Black faculty members who teach these courses are rated “more knowledgeable” than their white counterparts but “more biased and subjective” (Anderson & Smith, 2005).
• Black faculty and Hispanic faculty members tend to receive lower evaluations than their Caucasian and Asian colleagues (Hamermesh & Parker, 2005).
• Faculty who are perceived as “attractive” receive higher ratings in the area of effectiveness regardless of the gender of the faculty member by both male and female students (Hameresh & Parker, 2005).


2 thoughts on “Bias in Student Evaluations”

  1. Tamara,
    Great job summarizing these key points and providing these references.
    I wonder, are institutions COMPLETELY aware of this? If so, how do they deal with these evaluations that obviously affect minorities? I believe that as long as academic institutions are aware of these clear disadvantages towards certain groups, there is still some hope. My concern would be if academic institutions take the outcomes of these evaluations as they are without taking into account forces and stereotypes that are driving them.

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