UC professor finds gender bias negatively affects professors’ evaluations

Science, Phys.org report on study led by Oriana Aragon

Professors in the gender minority of university academic departments tend to receive lower scores in their performance evaluations because of gender bias, a study led by a University of Cincinnati professor found.

Oriana Aragon, a social psychologist and assistant professor of marketing in UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business, led a study with colleagues from the University of Colorado Boulder and Clemson University that explored the effects of gender bias in student evaluations of professors’ performance, publications including Science, Phys.org and Inside Higher Ed reported.

Oriana Aragon

Oriana Aragon, assistant professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati Carl H. Lindner College of Business

For the study, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Aragon and her fellow researchers looked at more than 100,000 evaluations from 4,700 courses at Clemson.

They discovered that in departments with more men as professors, women had lower average student evaluation ratings when teaching higher level courses. For departments with more women as professors, men had lower average student evaluation ratings when teaching higher level courses.

In departments with approximately an equal number of men and women as professors, the bias disappeared.

“The fact that women and men alike were penalized illustrates how stereotypes are broadly harmful,” Asia Eaton, a social psychologist at Florida International University, said to Science about the study’s findings. “The studies in this paper do an excellent job of studying gender bias in context.”

Aragon and her colleagues also performed an experiment in which they created a website for a theoretical academic department and enlisted student volunteers. Students were presented descriptions of mock courses with the picture and biography of a male or female instructor.

The students in the experiment evaluated the professors as if they had taken the mock courses. The same gender biases found in the student evaluations from actual courses were shown in the theoretical courses.

The effects of the biases could be very harmful to professors, as student evaluations often are used to help make decisions about which faculty members get promotions and tenure.

“Denying tenure for a small difference in teaching eval scores would be really a tragedy,” Aragón said to Science.

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Featured image at top courtesy of Unsplash.

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