By Professor Doom
Professors across the country are heavily rated by Student Evaluations of Teaching (SETs)…surveys filled out by students on how well they like the teacher.
Yes, these things are obviously biased towards things that have nothing to do with education, and a professor who wants good evaluations merely needs to be an easy grader. Administration has long since abandoned their job (if they ever held it) of working to make our institutions of higher education better, and so they use SETs as a beating-stick on faculty. It doesn’t matter if you have 20 students saying how great you are, if one student is upset because he failed…then it’s off to the Dean’s office to explain yourself. Seeing as the only students that get upset are failing students, faculty quickly learn to grade generously.
I once sat through a sort of norming session in which an associate dean handed out copies of student evaluation summaries (numbers, no comments), anonymously attributed to a "standout" faculty member. This was to be a model of what is expected at the university. When I raised my hand to ask whether the "average expected grade" should also be an A-, as reported on the summary, she laughed awkwardly and noted that it's just a guideline.
--I too have sat through meetings where praise was heaped on faculty that obviously were doing nothing for the students beyond awarding grades. Admin loves these kinds of faculty—all happy customers, at least until they find out GPA is worthless now.
Heck, everyone in higher education has seen this…it’s why the average grade on campus is A- now…it’s the only way to keep those SETs high. I’ve already cited many studies about how SETs are of minimal worth, despite the fact that admin often makes them central to keeping one’s job—they’re worthless for determining quality education, but quite valuable for helping admin beat on faculty to keep the students happy.
A recent study had a surprising (if statistically weak) result: students rate female professors poorly. Yes, I know, statistical studies have serious issues nowadays--honest, statistics done properly can say some useful things, but the sad fact is statistics done improperly can yield some nice paychecks, so the latter is how it’s done in today’s incredibly corrupt world. Despite all that, some aspects of the study lead me to believe they’re on to something:
…students in an online course on technology and society gave better evaluations to the teaching assistants they thought were male, even when the two instructors -- one male and one female -- had switched their identities. They both used both identities, which made it possible to compare what happened when each was apparently female…
As always, I find myself laughing at the hypocrisy here. In the deeply failed “Student as Customer” paradigm that rules our campuses, every aspect of integrity and standards has been destroyed, just to keep those customers happy. Someone whispers “Students want rock climbing walls” and across the country, rock climbing walls go up. Someone suggests “Students want higher grades” and across the country, grades go up. A survey shows “Students want fake courses” and…well, you get the idea.
So, here’s the study that says “Students want male professors” and what is the result?
“…onus should be on universities that rely on SET for employment decisions to provide convincing affirmative evidence that such reliance does not have disparate impact on women, underrepresented minorities, or other protected groups,…”
That’s right, you can still use SETs to bash in the heads of white male professors, but you shouldn’t do that to bash protected genders/minorities because, hey, the SETs are biased. My head hurts just considering this level of cognitive disconnect. I don’t know how people live with themselves, thinking like this.
Now the study has its detractors, who have some valid issues with the results and significance of the study—and, truth be told, I agree the study is not particularly strong. Considering the incredibly capricious nature of SETs, I’d be amazed if any study showed SETs were good for much besides kindling.
I really suspect the detractors of the study have an agenda, however:
Given the onslaught of negative articles published recently about SET (e.g., Asher, 2013; Berrett, 2015; Mulhere, 2014; Wieman, 2015; Zimmerman, 2014) we pause to ask why?
Seriously, “why?” Uh, when you see study after study across the planet saying the same thing about the uselessness of the SETs, when faculty everywhere complain (anonymously, of course) about how SETs are being used unfairly…maybe it’s because SETs are useless and are being used unfairly? The detractors seem unwilling to consider this possibility, for some reason.
I’ve seen administration warp and hurt our students based on the flimsiest, most ridiculous of unproven theories (Hi Common Core! Hello Bloom’s Taxonomy! Howdy Remediation Reform!)…why aren’t they tripping over themselves here to get rid of female professors on campus? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they should based on this study but…the hypocrisy here is
As always, the reader comments brings up issues the media misses:
There may be perfectly rational and fair reason as to why female lecturers receive lower evaluations than their male colleagues. Beginning in the mid-1980s, every Canadian university gave a strong preference to female candidates. More talented men routinely were passed over in favour of women simply on the basis of sex…In the circumstances, it's hardly surprising that women would tend to fare relatively poorly on student evaluations. People not hired on merit often turn out to be relatively untalented. Of course, one of the most pernicious aspects of such policies is dishonesty. Females were hired simply on the basis of sex, but once they were in place, everyone was expected to pretend that all hiring was done on merit. Are we to now blame some students for seeing the truth of the matter?
I’ve written before of the grotesque gender and racial bias going on in higher education today, and it’s hardly restricted to the United States. With administration in control of hiring, education and academics have long since been tossed in favor of identity politics. Could this be a factor in why students seem to rate male faculty higher? At the risk of sounding boastful, only the better white males can survive in this increasingly hostile environment, Maybe I’m wrong about that, but because these demented and insulting policies exist on our campuses, it degrades the people being hired based on their gender and skin color…and doesn’t do the students any favors.
You better believe the above poster used a pseudonym for that. I don’t agree, mind you, but this is what higher education is today: hypocrisy and fear.
And that, ultimately, is the takeaway from yet another study on how useless student evaluations of teaching are.