Students, especially STEMM students, prefer male professors, according to research. Two recent studies highlighted in Inside Higher Ed show that this bias increases both during a course and as the professor ages. In one study, student evaluations of men and women instructors were similar at the beginning of the course. Still, when students received their grades after the first exam, their evaluations for women instructors were lower than for men instructors on supposedly gender-neutral items. According to the researchers, “We found that bias widened after receiving grades, making this the first study to our knowledge that confirms that gender bias is fueled by feedback.”
The other study found that teaching evaluations for women faculty declined from their early tenure, young adulthood years to middle age, and rebounded during later middle age. The trend was reversed for men, who received higher evaluations as they aged. The researchers observed, “Our findings show that women are rated significantly lower as they age from younger to middle age, with their lowest teaching ratings emerging at age 47. Men do not experience this drop in ratings.”
These studies add to the ongoing concerns about the role of student evaluations in various administrative decisions. Although non-numerical assessments may supplement course evaluations (as at Michigan Tech), these numbers are often used to distinguish among faculty. As the researchers of the first study noted, “Due to the tight distribution of course evaluation scores among faculty, any differences, though commonly small and often not statistically significant, are used to make consequential decisions.” Instituting more holistic teaching assessment measures and utilizing student course evaluations primarily for teaching development rather than evaluation are among the steps these researchers recommend.