For many years, American colleges and universities conduct surveys at the end of the semester to get feedback on how the professor performed during the semester. The results of these surveys go to the university administration and can potentially have an influence on the status of the instructor’s job. It can help determine whether the instructor receives tenure, or it can signal a problem. If an instructor continually has low scores on these evaluations, it could have a negative impact on the instructor’s standing with the university. Therefore, although the students may not take the evaluations that seriously, their responses could have serious implications for the instructor’s future at the university.
Studying Gender Biases on Instructor Evaluations
Some researchers at the University of Iowa investigated the question of whether these evaluations could contain bias, which would cause women to have inherently lower scores on these evaluations. They studied the results of two American politics professors, one woman and one man, with similar teaching styles. The researchers presented the students with two types of surveys. Some of the students completed surveys with traditional language and another group of students completed surveys with language that was controlled for gender bias.
The researchers hypothesized that gender biases became a habit and was long ingrained into people’s minds. At the beginning of some of the surveys, they included instructions that made the students more aware of their potential biases and informed the students not to judge the instructor based on irrelevant attributes, such as their appearance. The language also drew attention to the fact that people may have unconscious and unintentional biases about the race or gender of the instructor.
The results found that the female instructor scored higher on the surveys that contained this language, which made students more aware of their potential biases. There was no negative effect on the scores of the male professor in this study. Therefore, the added language seemed to influence students’ responses in this study. This could indicate a major shift in how instructors are evaluated at universities and have a positive influence on the careers of female instructors. This is an example of the inherent biases and pitfalls that can exist for women at work.
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