Universities worldwide use student evaluations of teaching (SETs) to help instructors improve their teaching practices through student feedback. Universities also rely on SETs to assess instructors’ teaching effectiveness: many universities use SETs as their main assessment tool to make personnel decisions for faculty, especially tenure track and adjunct faculty. In recent years, several studies from different countries have found empirical evidence of gender biases in SETs.
The existence of these biases suggest that universities may be discriminating against instructors when relying on SET scores for their personnel decisions. Universities worldwide have therefore been looking for solutions to reduce these gender biases.
A field experiment conducted in a French university tested two different treatments designed to reduce discrimination in SETs. The first treatment consisted in a normative statement that the administration sent to a group of students by e-mail, reminding them that they should not discriminate in their evaluations of instructors. The second treatment consisted in an augmented message that the administration sent to another group of students, which contained the same normative statement and extra information about research showing the existence of student biases in SET scores in previous cohorts. While the normative statement had no significant impact on SET scores, the study finds evidence that the more informative statement reduced gender biases against female professors.
This research is part of ongoing policy discussions in higher education about how to improve gender equality in academia.