Female prof. calls for inflated course evaluations for female profs

Sarah Pritchard, an associate professor at Cornell University, says colleges should add bonus points to female faculty members’ teaching evaluations to combat students’ overwhelming gender bias.

The Ivy League professor describes female instructors as inherently disadvantaged and says schools should ensure a “level playing field.”

Should universities award ‘bonus points’ to female professors’ course evaluations to remedy gender bias?

College students across America are typically required to complete evaluations at the end of each semester. These materials are often distributed to students in-class prior to final exams and used by administrators and professors to assess both curriculum and job performance.

Weeks after the evaluations are completed—once grades have been submitted and campuses have cleared out for summer—professors will undo the manilla envelopes in which they’ve been collected and survey the damage.

“And, like each year, what they’ll find has been pervasively slanted by gender bias,” says Sara Pritchard, an associate professor of science and technology at Cornell University in New York.

Pritchard has been a full-time college professor since 2004. Throughout her years in academia, she has become increasingly disturbed by what she claims is an ongoing dilemma for many female scholars.

“I’ve read some of the research on gender bias in course evaluations, heard shocking stories from female colleagues, and, unfortunately, seen the issue in my own evaluations,” Pritchard wrote in a recent column for The Conversation— an online blog written by, and intended for, individuals in the academic and research communities.

According to Pritchard, female professors are more likely to find personal attacks and “comments that have nothing to do with their teaching abilities or competencies” embedded in students’ feedback regardless of whether they teach at the undergraduate or post-baccalaureate level.

“For instance, it’s common for female faculty to read comments about their appearance and fashion choices,” she writes.

Echoing the sentiments of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Pritchard cites a recent “gendered language” study which claims that college students are more likely to describe female instructors as “bossy,” in addition to more flattering words like “nice,” “approachable,” or “helpful.” The same study indicates that male instructors are more often characterized as “funny,” “genius,” or “brilliant.”

“[T]hese adjectives not only reflect but also reinforce gender stereotypes for both men and women… the fact is that these comments speak to the ways that female instructors are perceived differently in the classroom…” Pritchard writes.

According to Pritchard, the gender bias that exists in teacher evaluations often thwarts the success of female faculty who are “penalized on their teaching evaluations in ways that can impede their professional advancement and success — from being hired to tenure and promotion.”

To rectify the situation, Pritchard believes administrators should review the job performance of female instructors using data that has been “adjusted”—or inflated—to their benefit.

“Female faculty should receive an automatic correction—that is to say, a bonus—on their quantitative teaching evaluation scores,” Pritchard writes, adding that such bonuses “should be determined by average gender bias in teaching evaluations at their institution or national averages.”

Pritchard says female professors “do not have a level playing field’ and adding a numerical bonus to their teaching evaluations is “one concrete way to actually fix such inequalities.”

“Course evaluations may seem like mere numbers, but the stakes are big,” she writes. “If the role of gender bias in teaching evaluations is not addressed, the demographic diversity of academia will continue to suffer.”

Nonetheless, a study from Pritchard’s current employer recently found that the professional advancement of men in certain areas of academia can be hampered by the presence of women.

According to researchers at the Cornell Institute for Women in Science, women are twice as likely to be hired as tenure-track faculty in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—over “otherwise identical male candidates.”

Christina Hoff Sommers, a former philosophy professor at Clark University and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, says that awarding “brownie points” to professors because of their gender is both “humiliating and patronizing.” 

“If we are going to implement a bonus system like this, then why not start with little boys who face gender bias from the moment they enter school?” Sommers told Campus Reform. “That could help level the college playing field--where women outnumber men by large numbers.”

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