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Gender and Teaching Evaluation II

The following discussions on the effect of gender in faculty
evaluations took place on WMST-L in December/January 2000-2001 and
September 2002.  People interested in this topic may also wish to
look at a WMST-L discussion from 1993. For additional WMST-L files
now available on the Web, see the WMST-L File Collection.

Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 00:11:06 -0500
From: James Thurmond <james.thurmond AT WMICH.EDU>
Subject: faculty assessments and gender
I was wondering if anyone is aware of studies on how students and
administrators assess male and female faculty differently and on what grounds
such assessments are made.  I am interested in looking at studies that
attempt to get at the issue of whether or not female faculty are damaged by
student perceptions of them - power, "mothering" expectations, etc. (or just
more willing to complain about them to their superiors) in terms of their
careers.  Recently I met a woman who told me some rather amazing stories about
students "organizing" to get a handful of female faculty fired for not being
"good enough teachers" while none of the male instructors at this particular
institution have been targeted.  The bazar thing, according to her, is that
the female faculty in question spend a great deal of time trying to work with
students and to go out of their way to explain concepts to them while many of
the faculty not targeted (many of whom are male)  do not.  Perhaps the most
disturbing element of this whole story, however, has been the seriousness with
which the administrators have taken these charges.  I am curious as to whether
this is an individual horror story (perhaps magnified by one person's
perception) or whether there is something deeper going on here.

Thanks - Amy
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 09:07:50 EST
From: Alyson Buckman <Cataria2 AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: faculty assessments and gender
There *are* studies out there, although offhand I cannot cite them.  To add
another analogy -- in the class of one friend of mine, a student wrote that
'pregnant women should not be allowed to teach'.  Oh, yeah, there are
problems out there.
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 09:46:58 -0500
From: "Joan C. Chrisler" <jcchr AT CONNCOLL.EDU>
Subject: Re: faculty assessments and gender
An excellent review of the research on gendered assessments of faculty
performance is found (along with suggestions on how faculty might deal
with them) in Susan Basow's chapter "Student Evaluations: The Role of
Gender Bias and Teaching Styles" in L.H. Collins, J.C. Chrisler, &
K. Quina (Eds.), Arming Athena: Career Strategies for Women in Academe
(Sage, 1998).

Joan C. Chrisler
Professor of Psychology
Connecticut College
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 09:47:41 EST
From: "Victoria D. Heckler" <Vdheckler AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: faculty assessments and gender

This is not an isolated incident!!!  I am currently working on assembling a
collection of personal narratives from women who feel as though they have
been "exiled from academia," in one way or another.  Upon my initial analysis
of the data I received, the theme you mentioned in your email appeared over
and over again.  Academic women discussed how they were often expected to
"mother" or "nurture" their students by allowing them to rewrite papers,
counsel them on issues unrelated to academics, etc.  Women were also called
upon to "serve" their male counterparts, or volunteer for committees that
none of their male colleagues wished to serve on.  The catch-22 is that if
these women did not comply, they were accused of being non-collegial, but if
they did comply, they did not have ample time to complete the necessary
scholarship for promotion or tenure.  In my work, I dub this phenomena, "The
Academic/Woman Paradox."

Victoria Heckler
vdheckler  AT
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 11:28:39 -0400
From: Deborah Louis <louis AT UMBC.EDU>
Subject: Re: faculty assessments and gender
>Academic women discussed how they were often expected to
>"mother" or "nurture" their students by allowing them to
>rewrite papers, counsel them on issues unrelated to academics, etc.

i haven't been following this thread, but this caught my eye--i don't
call this "mothering," i call it "teaching" (as opposed to
"instructing")--though i suppose there's some natural parallel
there--but these are things all good TEACHERS do as far as i'm
concerned, male or female--not indiscriminately (as, WHENEVER asked or
"expected"), but as appropriate to the particular student's situation,
level of effort, and support/development needs...

teaching IS nurturing, though we are for sure confronted with
institutional pressures to sacrifice this function in the interest of
accommodating the bureaucracy--i.e."for the sake of tenure/promotion"
(self-interest) and/or the bureaucratization of education itself (i for
one won't even go into a ROOM with a scantron, much less use one!)...

the conflict isn't between "nurturing" and "scholarship," it is between
pedagogical and bureaucratic values--and i hope there are a whole lot of
us who continue to refuse to go gentle into THAT good night, regardless
of "career-ladder" consequences--if we can't manage to keep this beacon
alive in women's studies, then for heaven's sake where?...

debbie <louis  AT>
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 10:56:57 -0800
From: Marilyn Edelstein <MEdelstein AT SCU.EDU>
Subject: Re: gender's impact on faculty assessments
Some colleagues of mine at Santa Clara University did a study at our
university, which replicated national data (which they cited in a forum
they presented to our Women Faculty Group, although I don't have the
article citations at hand).  Their survey and at least several national
studies showed that women faculty are EXPECTED to be nurturing and
caretaking of students, and get lower evaluations when they fail to meet
these socially constructed expectations, while male faculty who are this
way are REWARDED and get higher evaluations than other male faculty,
since students don't expect male faculty to nurture and caretake.  Women
who act more professional than maternal in class (who aren't perceived
as "warm") and/or who are tough graders with high standards often
receive lower evaluations than other women faculty. I've also seen this
phenomenon in reading colleagues' student evaluations during department
discussions of tenure and retention.
   Re: the effect of pregnancy on evaluation of women faculty, both
anecdotes and a study I've read and heard cited, women who are pregnant
receive lower evaluations than they do in other quarters or semesters
when they're not pregnant. (I don't remember whether this was tested out
in the study here.)
  All this work says a lot about gender norms in our society as well as
about the "reliability" and fairness of student evaluations of faculty,
and the uses to which they are put, I think. Marilyn Edelstein, English,
Santa Clara U
medelstein  AT
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 18:12:50 -0500
From: "Heidi A. Huse" <huseha AT MUOHIO.EDU>
Subject: Re: gender's impact on faculty assessments
I don't know if this fits exactly in this discussion, but I wonder if male
faculty get challenged as frequently as females on the grades they give
students.  Maybe this is also a discipline-related thing since I teach
first-year writing, and students expect "freshman comp." to be an "easy A."
 I just received another complaint (actually my only one this semester)
about giving a student an A- instead of an A; it seems my A- ruined the gpa
she needs to pledge a sorority next semester, though my understanding is
that sororities on my campus require a gpa of 2.5 to pledge, so I'm not
sure how an A- is the cause of the problem.  Anyway, I have never heard
male colleagues complain about being challenged by students about the
grades they give in the way I hear it occurring w/ my female colleagues.
Heidi Huse, Miami University (Ohio)
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 20:31:37 -0500
From: Joan Korenman <korenman AT GL.UMBC.EDU>
Subject: Re: faculty assessments and gender
Just thought I'd point out that WMST-L had an earlier discussion of
this topic in January 1993, and the messages from that discussion can
be found in the WMST-L File Collection. under the title "Gender and
Teaching Evaluation" (
That file also contains a link to a 1994 article by Susan Basow
entitled "Student Ratings of Professors are not Gender Blind"
which may or may not be an earlier version of the work Joan Chrisler

    Joan Korenman

Joan Korenman                  korenman  AT
U. of Md. Baltimore County
Baltimore, MD 21250  USA

The only person to have everything done by Friday is Robinson Crusoe
Date: Thu, 21 Dec 2000 18:05:13 -0800
From: "Susan D. Kane" <suekane AT U.WASHINGTON.EDU>
Subject: faculty assesments and gender
While you are investigating this issue at your university, you might also
look at assesments and race, as well as relationships between students and
international TAs/faculty.  A South Asian friend of mine, while TAing
undergraduate calculus received feedback such as "she speaks like a frog"
and "I could not understand her English".  My friend was born and raised
in the United States.  She has no accent.

It was easy for the Chair of that department to discount those statements,
but I think vague comments are much harder.  Students attitudes that women
should nurture, that pregnant women do not belong in professional
environments, etc.. are mostly subconsious.  I'm sure most believe they
are fair and unbiased.  Perhaps there is a way to make their internal
double standard more visible to them.

Distance education and the Internet provide interesting ways to test
certain biases.  Students in a study could all receive exactly the same
information from an instructor while being told that the instructor is
female, male, white, black, etc.. then they could be asked to evaluate the
instructor.  Of course, there is no way to standardize a real interaction
between people with all of its subtlety and individual behavior.  But the
results of such a study would be interesting food for thought.

Susan Kane                suekane  AT
Reference/WS Librarian            Box 353080
University of Washington        Seattle, WA 98195
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2000 08:29:39 -0500
From: Suzanne Baker <sbaker1 AT QWEST.NET>
Subject: Re: faculty assesments and gender
I am quite interested to read the studies that have been mentioned in this
thread. Women professors at my university (a Jesuit institution in the
midwest) often discuss our perceptions of differences in students'
evaluations of and requirements for male and female professors. Once, while
several of us (women) were discussing recent student evaluations (which
included comments about our clothes being too sexy or not sexy enough, about
being mothering, about being dominating witches, about the unprofessionalism
of getting pregnant, about being airheads, etc.) a male professor happened
to walk by. He brightly chimed in that he, too, had been subjected to
negative comments that he felt were based on his gender, but that he didn't
take them seriously. We were intrigued, and asked him what, and he replied,
quite seriously, "they often criticize my ties"....

Suzanne Baker
"When we want to understand something, we cannot just stand outside and
observe it. We have to enter deeply into it and be one with it . . . "
                - Thich Nhat Hanh
Date: Tue, 26 Dec 2000 14:33:59 -0800
From: Susan Basow <basows AT LAFAYETTE.EDU>
Subject: Re: faculty assessments and gender
Sorry for the less than timely reply.  Hope this is still helpful.

I believe there is good research evidence (in addition to anecdotal
evidence) that female faculty members are perceived through a gender
lens (and how could it be otherwise when males and their behaviors
are normative?)  People may be interested in the following
publications of mine (one already was cited by Joan Chrisler, another
by Joan Korenman), all of which contain a reference list of other

Basow, S.  (2001, in press).  Best and worst professors:  Gender
patterns in students' choices.  Sex Roles.
Basow, S. A. (2000).  Gender dynamics in the classroom.  In J. C.
Chrisler, C. Golden, & P. D. Rozee, Lectures on the Psychology of
Women, 2nd. ed. (pp. 36-46).  NY:  McGraw-Hill.
Basow, S. A.  (1998).  Student evaluations:  The role of gender bias
and teaching styles.  In L. H. Collins, J. Chrisler, & K. Quina
(Eds.), Arming Athena:  Career strategies for women in academe (pp.
135-156).  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Sage.
Basow, S. A.  (1995).  Student evaluations of college professors:
When gender matters.  Journal of Educational Psychology, 87, 656-665.
Basow, S. A.  (1990).  Effects of teacher expressiveness:  Mediated
by teacher sex-typing? Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 599-602.
Basow, S. A., & Silberg, N. T. (1987). Student evaluations of college
professors: Are female and male professors rated differently?
Journal of Educational Psychology, 79, 308-314.

Hope others will write in with other citations.
Susan Basow
Susan A. Basow, Ph.D.
Charles A. Dana Professor of Psychology
Lafayette College, Easton, PA 18042-1781
610-330-5294    fax: 610-330-5349
Internet:  basows  AT

    until 7/15/01:
Psychology Department
Social Science 2, Room 277
Santa Cruz, CA  95064
831-459-3439 or 831-459-5084 for messages
basows  AT  OR  sabasow  AT
personal fax: 801-365-5125
Date: Wed, 27 Dec 2000 12:15:27 -0700
From: Kass Fleisher <kass.fleisher AT COLORADO.EDU>
Subject: gender-based evaluations and pedagogy
am glad for this discussion again (tis the season) while i await my
twice-yearly love letters from students....  as an adjunct, i have to be
concerned about bias in evaluations since my institution *suggests* that it
uses the grades (literally A, A-, etc) students give "us" and our courses
to determine who gets to keep working (no evidence of this so far except

anyway, to echo susan kane's comment earlier, gender bias isn't (of course)
the only bias present in evaluations....  simply put, any representative of
any group not permitted full authority in everyday society will suffer
challenges to his/her permission to exercise authority in the classroom....
my working-class partner, an italian male, gets away with demanding more
than i do (even when we link our courses and teach the exact same material
the exact same "way" [not really possible] -- this is always fascinating to
us) -- but gets away with demanding less than does his "whiter,"
higher-class male colleagues....  since he has "less" authority than do the
entowered, entombed, distant "geniuses" of certain race, class and accent
(sitting down the hall with office door closed), students seem somehow to
find him in his office more often, to complain about How He Teaches more
often, etc....  but he'll tell you i get "it" (what i think of as student
abuse of perceived power) way worse than he, and i'll tell you i have
colleagues who get it worse than i....

so with that proviso:  and this question has been asked before:  but my
reliance on and dedication to "feminist pedagogies" may be a *response* to
this refusal, on the part of a significant number of students, to grant me
permission to demand of them real self-challenge....  in fact, the
evaluation form *itself* makes invisible/erases my practices:  they of the
student-centered community-based peer-graded
non-directive-counseling/question-driven this-is-your-class-not-mine
i-keep-my-opinions-to-myself etc variety -- questions like "how would you
rate the instructor's knowledge of the material?" have no place in what i
do, since displaying my expertise is not my goal.  "how well did the
instructor clarify grading criteria?" is ridiculous when the *students*
develop the criteria themselves and my job is to hold them *to* their
*selected* criteria (while facilitating a discussion about things
like...gender biases in grading criteria!!!).

and most of the time students successfully and wonderfully challenge
themselves and each other in this community learning setting, and things
are grand and they accept tons of responsibility and grow tremendously --
and "i" and the course get an A.  and occasionally (usually in classes
dominated by white males) i have to step in and demand that they do all of
the above, and things are not grand and i am their punishing "mother" --
and "i" get a B.  and i wonder whether the vast energies i put into setting
up and facilitating an arena in which the A course has its best opportunity
to emerge -- whether this energy is really spent marginalizing myself and
my nasty little opinions (to which i have no right) *so that* i get an A
and not a B.  (or worse.)  which is to say, does feminist pedagogy (which
does in some ways contribute to the marginalization of the practitioner)
exist to *support* social resistance to woman-as-authority?  would my
teaching be *more* radical if i insisted upon having a space for those
ideas of mine to which some students grant me no right?  (i mean, sometimes
i *do*, when no one *else* in the room is responding to articulated
oppression -- but i often think of those as "bad" days, when i "imposed"
myself on "their" community.  so do they.)

i would prefer not to teach *to* evaluations, especially since they *are*
biased -- as if i run my business on focus groups.  my number one goal in
teaching is to challenge notions like "authority," not least because
authority is not permitted to me and my kinds -- but the institution,
finally, does require that i take authority and *grade* students.  many
students are able to work within this duality -- but a good number are not,
and are not, given how they feel about women or mothers or whatever, able
to trust me to use institutional authority for their benefit.  and they
punish me for that on evals.  and i change my teaching to avoid (not just)
this (also to avoid being part of that oppressive institutional process).
good?  bad?

kass fleisher


kass.fleisher  AT
links to online publication available at:
Date: Tue, 16 Jan 2001 13:11:00 -0800
From: Marilyn Edelstein <MEdelstein AT SCU.EDU>
Subject: more re: gender and faculty evaluations
There's an interesting recent on-line article about student evaluations
(the byline is Ramond Burgin, but the biog. info. at the end of the
article is about John V. Adams, so I'm not quite sure who the author
is), that looks at a number of evaluation variables, including gender.
Its web address is

This article cites an article by D. Kierstead, P. D'Agostino, and H.
Dill (1988), "Sex role stereotyping of college professors: Bias in
students' ratings of instructors." Journal of Educational Psychology,
80,342-344.  The article by Kierstead et al. notes that "women are more
negatively evaluationed than men if htey fail to meet gender-appropriate
expectations with regard to student contact and support" and that
women's smiling (but not men's) increases their ratings.

    The Burgin (or Adams?) article has a useful bibliography. The gist
of this article is that student evaluations are so unreliable and
subject to skewing by so many factors that they should not be used for
any purposes other than improvement of an instructor's teaching (e.g.,
not for retention and tenure decisions). Marilyn Edelstein, English,
Santa Clara U
medelstein  AT

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