- Students assign lower ratings during course evaluations to faculty who are in the minority gender in their departments, according to new research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
- Researchers found students were just as likely to ding men teaching in traditionally female-dominated fields, like nursing, as women teaching in traditionally male-dominated fields, like engineering.
- Still, biased course evaluations are more likely to affect women as about 73% of academic departments are majority male. Researchers did not find similar biases in departments that were close to achieving gender parity.
Gender bias prevails in higher education, as it does across many professional sectors. But this new research demonstrates how it affects a majority of academic departments, including those that don’t employ roughly the same number of women and men.
Researchers analyzed course evaluations of 1,885 educators at Clemson University, in South Carolina, from the 2018-2019 academic year. The studied faculty collectively taught 4,700 courses, 72% of which were upper-level classes.
When it came to course evaluations, the level of the coursework professors taught intersected with their gender.
In most instances, faculty received higher evaluation scores when teaching upper-level courses compared to lower-level courses. But educators in their department’s gender minority teaching upper-level courses were the exception, scoring no higher on those evaluations than when they taught lower-level classes, according to the paper.
In one case, faculty in the gender minority received slightly better evaluations than those in the majority — when teaching lower-level courses. Researchers hypothesized that students would expect educators in a department’s gender minority to take a supportive role and teach lower-level courses, as opposed to filling a highly valued position teaching upper-level courses.
But the bias in student evaluations doesn’t mean colleges should do away with them entirely, according to Oriana Aragón, a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati and the paper’s lead author.
“This is not a student problem,” Aragón said. “It’s not an evaluation instrument problem. It’s a bigger issue about the way we see people.”
She added that even if colleges brought in external course evaluators, those individuals would likely still carry the same bias as students.
The best way to address evaluation bias is to achieve gender parity across departments, according to the paper. Researchers also suggest department leaders emphasize the presence of both men and women on their staff and ensure all faculty are teaching courses of all levels.