For professors, student evaluations are used to assist decisions on promotions, raises and tenure. But research from North Carolina State University shows that the evaluations a professor receives are linked to their gender, with male professors receiving higher and more favorable ratings than female professors.
In 2014, researchers at N.C. State used online courses, where an instructor’s gender could be hidden, to test this gender bias. Four sections of an online class were taught by two instructors: a female instructor and a male instructor. Each taught two sections, using their true identity for one and adopting a name of the opposite gender for the other.
At the end of the course, students were asked to rate their professors on fifteen positive qualities, ranging from knowledgeable and fair to caring and helpful. In every category except one, the scores the male professor received dropped when he adopted a female name. Meanwhile, the female professor received higher scores in every category when using a male name.
“I have a colleague who is about is the same age as I am, who has been at UNC about the same time that I have. We used to both teach (POLI) 150 pretty regularly, and we have the same grade distribution. He’s a good teacher, and I think I’m a reasonable teacher as well, but I would always get much harsher evaluations,” said Layna Mosley, a UNC professor of political science. “There is a set of societal expectations for how faculty behave, so the same sort of behavior for a female versus a male professor is interpreted differently.”
At University of California-Berkeley, Texas Tech University and Saint Mary’s University, several other studies have supported N.C. State’s findings that student-teacher evaluations are biased against female professors.