Leadership Lapse: Laundering Systemic Bias through Student Evaluations
16 Pages Posted: 9 Mar 2020 Last revised: 25 May 2021
Date Written: March 6, 2020
The use of the student evaluation of teaching (SET) for high stakes faculty employment decisions amounts to a lapse in leadership. A scholarly consensus has emerged that using SETs as the primary measure of teaching effectiveness in faculty review processes can systematically disadvantage faculty from marginalized groups. The growing body of evidence shows that women and minorities get lower ratings of their teaching than white men. Using biased evaluations allows colleges and universities to discriminate against faculty whose identities deviate from white male heteronormativity.
Despite the knowledge that empirical research demonstrates these instruments are biased, the academy has accepted them as credible. Bias in student evaluations can lead an institution to determine that a faculty member who differs from the straight white male stereotype is an inadequate teacher. Faculty with lower student ratings are penalized in the hiring, retention, compensation, and promotion processes.
This article summarizes empirical research demonstrating that student evaluations are biased against female faculty and faculty of color; describes the impact on student learning; details the influence on institutional culture of using student evaluations for assessing teaching quality for performance evaluations, compensation, promotion, and retention; and suggests recommendations for evaluating teaching effectiveness in fair and responsible ways. Law schools should lead the change in this discriminatory higher education practice because they are institutions dedicated to social justice and to training leaders who will drive social change in the legal system, government, business, media, and philanthropy.
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