Prepared by Winston Grady-Willis, Kishore Kulkarni, and Jim Simmons
Race, Ethnicity, Gender, and Other Bias Issues
February 18, 2014
Rationale: The SRI Task Force (“Task Force”), convened during the 2013-2014 academic year, seeks to promote methods to assist all those who review faculty credentials for any purpose (hiring, retention, promotion, tenure, or post-tenure review) to be sensitive to possible effects of bias concerning personal characteristics of the faculty member as reflected in both the numerical Students Ratings of Instruction (“SRIs”) and any written comments provided by students.
The Task Force notes the voluminous literature that exists on the subject of bias in student evaluations of faculty. There are over two thousand publications on methods of evaluating faculty and on interpreting the results. However, the Task Force finds contradictory research results, incomplete statements of the methodology used, or sweeping generalizations that engender suspicion of the motivation of the authors or the validity of the results. In conclusion, the literature, in and of itself, is not very helpful to make substantive decisions.
Nonetheless, the Task Force is concerned about possible bias in SRIs and student comments that, relate, even implicitly, to personal characteristics of the faculty member, including: race, ethnicity, nationality, English accent, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It is the Task Force’s opinion that the cumulative weight of the studies indicates the existence (or strong potential for the existence) of these kinds of personal biases. Some prominent examples from the literature include the:
- Possibility of lower scores for female instructors than male instructors (although this is perhaps the most controversial research finding, as some studies show this effect and some do not).
- Possibility of lower scores for faculty of color.
- Possibility of lower scores for female instructors of color compared with male instructors of color.
- Possibility of lower scores for instructors for who English is a second language, particularly for particularly for males.
While the Task Force recognizes that personal biases may take many forms, including the possibility of “positive” biases, it feels that the University should state clearly that the University intends to sensitize reviewers at all levels to the possibility of personal biases in SRIs and students comments.
Moreover, the Task Force notes that the Websites of Indiana University, Bloomington, and the University of Pennsylvania, to take two examples, caution hiring personnel and reviewers of faculty about gender and racial bias in hiring and faculty reviews, and include some strategies for attempting to detect or eliminate it.
Based on these factors, the Task Force recommends that the following statement be placed in the appropriate places in the Faculty Handbook concerning all levels of review:
Statement: “Care should be taken and sensitivity should be used when evaluating both the numerical SRIs and the subjective student comments that may be related, explicitly or implicitly, to personal characteristics of faculty members. In terms of subjective student comments, appropriate sensitivity should be maintained when observing even the slightest hint of bias about any personal characteristics of faculty members, as opposed to the comments that relate directly to “the course as a whole” and “the instructor’s contribution to the course.” In terms of numerical SRIs, care should be taken regarding patterns that may emerge regarding scores for “the instructor’s contribution to the course” which may reflect personal bias.
Examples that might indicate the existence of personal bias against a faculty member include SRI scores that appear lower (or higher) than other criteria of faculty evaluation might suggest (e.g., peer observations, faculty narrative, or supplemental materials supplied by students such as letters of appreciation). To the maximum extent possible, overt or subtle statements of racism, sexism, heterosexism, or xenophobia should be completely ignored.”