How Gender Bias Survives at Today’s Colleges

Gamified RateMyProfessor.com shows which instructors are described as ‘brilliant’ and who is labeled ‘bossy.’

(Photo: Trevor Lush/Getty Images)

Feb 14, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Need proof that gender bias has survived and been passed along to the millennial generation? Take a few minutes to play around with a new online tool created by someone who spends plenty of time with young adults—a professor at Northeastern University.

Ben Schimdt, an assistant professor of history, invented Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews, an interactive database that allows users to type any word or two-word phrase into a search box and see how it was “used to describe male and female teachers in about 14 million reviews from RateMyProfessor.com.”

For example, type in the word “brilliant” and limit your search to positive reviews from the rating site. As the image below shows, the word is used to describe male instructors (the blue dots) much more frequently than it is applied to their female colleagues (the orange dots).

(Chart: Courtesy BenSchmidt.org)

In comparison, type in the word “bossy” (or “crazy”) and you’ll see that women in academia—like their female peers in other fields—are more likely to be described as such.

(Chart: Courtesy BenSchmidt.org)

Schmidt’s research echoes a study conducted last fall by researchers at North Carolina State University, which found that online learners were more likely to rate an instructor positively if they believed the teacher was male.

“Most academics know that female teachers are treated different from male ones in all sorts of ways. I was curious how these perceptions moved over into teaching evaluations,” Schmidt told Times Higher Education.

More troubling, if it’s true, is Schmidt’s belief that similar attitudes are affecting career advancement for women in academia.

“I doubt there’s anything too distinctive about [RateMyProfessor.com]: The internal evaluations that are being used for tenure and promotion decisions at many schools most likely show many of the same patterns,” he said.