A reader solicits practical strategies for facilitating the sensible institutional interpretation of student evaluations of teaching, given the empirically well-founded worry (as was noted on this blog recently) that such evaluations express a substantial bias against women instructors.
Hello wonderful community of feminist philosophers, I’m hoping that you can help me with a problem that is not just mine but is one that so many of us share. This is the problem of teaching evaluations. Teaching evaluations as a method of assessing teaching leave much to be desired. However, their use becomes even more problematic or worrisome when (as in my case) they are used as one of three main criteria for annual departmental evaluations and promotion.
There is good evidence to show that anonymous course/teaching evaluations are biased against women and a number of other underrepresented groups. Most recently, there is this study. But in addition to evaluations being generally biased against women, I’m facing the additional issue: namely, in all of my courses I include a good deal of feminist and critical race theory. Having recently read my course evaluations, I noticed that a good number of my students reacted negatively to this material. For example, there were many comments that spoke to the “problem” of so much feminist philosophy, about how I’m trying to “indoctrinate them,” and about how if they didn’t simply agree with my (feminist) positions then I would give them low grades. Of course, all of these claims are false but nonetheless I am worried about their presence. It seems that on the basis of the content of my courses (in addition to the gender bias), my evaluations are importantly lower than those of others (and for reasons that have nothing to do with my actual teaching abilities).
So I’m wondering whether and how people in other departments have dealt with this problem. I’m pretty certain that my institution (big, public university) is committed to keeping them, so abolition is not on the table at this point. Still, I wonder if there is any way to take into account these known biases so that certain groups of people are not systematically disadvantaged. Have any departments tried other methods of assessing teaching either instead of or in addition to the required ones? Even though my university probably isn’t going to stop using teaching evaluations any time soon, it is possible that my department might be persuaded to use a different method of assessing teaching when it comes to departmental annual merit reviews (or at the very least, supplementing the university required teaching evaluations with some other methods).
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.