Posted by: kristenshipman22 | February 27, 2020

Rate My Professor[‘s Gender]

In a 2015 “Inside Higher Ed” article a tool created by an assistant professor of history at Northeastern University, Benjamin M. Schmidt, is explored. Schmidt created a database based on the words used in 14 million reviews on the popular website Rate My Professors. I’m sure all of us have used Rate My Professors in the past to get a sneak peak at what a professor might be like before the semester or to rant in a post-finals rage. Rate My professors proclaims on their website that they have “the best college professor reviews and ratings source based on student feedback. Over 1.7 million professors & 19 million reviews.“. Students would be silly not to take into account what others have to say about professors they haven’t taken before. Having this in mind, Schmidt was curious as to what words were most commonly associated with male and female professors on the site and how those associations differ.

Schmidt’s database takes into account 14 million reviews and by typing in words to his search a graph reveals, by discipline, how common the word was (per million words of text) in reviews for each gender. To no one’s surprise, many of the more positive words are much more likely to come up in reviews of men than of women. The words “smart”,”intellect”, and “genius” are more likely to be used in ratings of men than women, and “genius” is more likely to be used to describe male professors than female professors in all 25 disciplines for which are available! Words most commonly found on women professor’s reviews are “bossy”, “nurturing”, “strict” and “demanding”. Women are also more likely to have non-teaching related appearance driven words such as “frumpy” or “stylish” in their reviews.

These reviews are a direct representation of how college students, seemingly a more progressive group than the rest of society, continue to reinforce gender stereotypes. This gendering of words is an issue we have frequently brought up in class. How is to say that “bossy” is inherently female or, more controversially, that “genius” is a word exclusively used in the context of male leader. The double-bind of leading a classroom, especially in a rigorous, strict manor that many curriculum call for, whilst also striving for students to find their professor approachable enough to ask questions one on one, is a sad reality of higher education. Many institutions have had to formally request their students stop commenting on physical attributes, and personal fashion styles of female professors on university course reviews. These reviews also translate into the treatment of female professors in the classroom. As a math major myself there are few of my professors that look like me, and those that do as treated with less respect than their male counterparts. I have experienced time and time again others picking apart the appearance of a female professor that they may not agree with or have issues understanding instead of complaining directly about the course material. The opposite is true in my experience with male professors. In courses where i have had a male professor that many were dissatisfied with the main complaints were about the course material rather than the professor himself.

Have you seen the gender disparities in conversations with your peers about your professors?
Does any of this surprise you?
How else do you see gender disparities in higher education?
Do you think these reviews have impact on the tenure process that many female professors have difficulty going through?
What can we do to combat this gendered language in the reviewing of professors at our university?
Do you think that the post-finals mindset of students who regularly use rate my professor has anything to do with the language used?

Article: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/02/09/new-analysis-rate-my-professors-finds-patterns-words-used-describe-men-and-women

Link to the database: http://benschmidt.org/profGender/#%C2%A0
I urge you to try it out for yourself!


Responses

  1. In reference to your questions:

    Have you seen the gender disparities in conversations with your peers about your professors? Yes. I find myself more skeptical of my female professors for many reasons. If I get the feeling that my female professor and I do not particularly “click,” I take it much more personally than I would if it were a male professor. I find myself enjoying my classes that are lead by female professors and I know that I have a high expectation for them, because they are the female figures that I look up to at school. While I do not try to judge my female professors more harshly than my male professors, I do like to believe that I do because my expectations are higher – but they should be just as high for my male professors.

    Does any of this surprise you? Nothing from your post particularly surprised me – it paralleled a lot of the discussions that we have had it class. It is an obvious shame that the best female teacher will still potentially have a more negative review than the worst male professor. I wish that women would be judged on the basis of their conduct and the education that they provide than the particular outfit that she chooses to wear.

    How else do you see gender disparities in higher education? Most of the talks or panels that I have attended have been male-lead or involved male speakers. Rarely have I attended speakers where the person speaking is a woman. Even in PLP, most of the speakers are old, white, men. I think I have seen maybe (maybe) four or five female speakers during my time in PLP. That alone says a lot about how college, and CNU specifically, views women in leadership.

    Do you think these reviews have impact on the tenure process that many female professors have difficulty going through? Absolutely. I feel like colleges and faculty take into account what the student opinion is. Why guarantee a job to someone who has awful reviews about them? Without diving deeper into the context of the situation, it wouldn’t make sense.

    What can we do to combat this gendered language in the reviewing of professors at our university? I think that colleges should continue to formally request their student from doing so-but I also think that students should be told to ignore those comments if they see them and not let it affect their conceptions of a professor. A shallow comment should be ignored. I know with the teacher evaluations that professors get at CNU, the IDEA’s, have always felt productive. However, I understand that those become a platform for revenge against professors from students who may not have received a desired grade.

  2. I remember my second semester freshman year when choosing classes I completely avoided rate my professor. I chose the classes I did because they fit in with my schedule and I needed the course. I had heard about rate my professor from the upperclassmen but decided to shy away from it to start. That semester 4/6 of my professors were female. The following semester I decided to use Rate My Professor. Upon using it I noticed that a lot of the female professors had reviews describing them as “nice”, “easier than (insert male professor)”, “funny” and “sweet”. These reviews were focusing on their personalities rather than their qualities as a professor and the class itself. I think these adjectives used made me choose more female than male professors because 6/7 of my professors were female. The male professors on the other hand were described as “great teacher”, “expert”, “respected”, “tough grader”. The male professor reviews are less personality based and more based on their teaching style and expertise in the course. I think that this difference in adjectives used sway student’s choice of professor for the worse. Additionally, while this site can be helpful, I also think it is hurtful. It predisposes students to other students biased opinions. This causes them to go into the course with expectations and if those expectations are met, it will sway the way they view that professor.

    In response to a few of your questions, I think that gender disparities are very present in conversations had about male and female professors. While it may not be intended and not negative, the disparities continue to support the gender stereotypes that people are trying to get rid of. I find myself criticizing my female professors more on their personalities even if they are great at teaching content. For my male professors I tend to blind myself from their personality and focus solely on their teaching styles. I think this kind of attitude also is seen in the IDEA’s. I think a lot of students use this platform as a way to “get revenge” on their professors that did not fulfill their expectations, or give them the grade they wanted to. These evaluations are meant to be subjective and based on the course, and the teaching style rather than if you thought the professor was funny, sweet, or rude. When I fill out these evaluations I do my best to be objective but I know I am not 100% unbiased. To combat the gendered language when reviewing professors, students need to be objective and hold all professors to the same standards.

  3. Honestly, none of your post really surprised me. I definitely think there are gender disparities in conversations about professors. We like to think that we rate our professors equally and through the same scale, but it unfortunately can vary by gender. This all comes back to many of our readings this semester about how male and female leaders are evaluated in different ways for having the same qualities. I think that many of us unintentionally rate men and women differently for certain qualities because, yes, we do expect women to be more nurturing. Even though we try to be unbiased and view people of either gender the same, society wants us to believe that men and women are supposed to have specific qualities.

    As far as tenure is concerned, I think reviews definitely play a role. Obviously, I don’t know how the tenure process works, but I imagine there is a very specific review process. However, since we (the students) are rating our professors in a different way, the reviews will be very different. Female professors that are rated tougher by her students might have more negative reviews for acting the same way as her male colleagues. If the board that decides on tenure is reviewing the evaluations and they are all negative, the odds of tenure don’t look very good. Additionally, you make a really good point asking about reviews that are uploaded post-finals. I think many of those reviews and comments come from students that are either very upset or very satisfied, and not many in between. Therefore, it’s important (in my opinion) that the reviews are read and taken with a grain of salt.

    In response to your question about combatting this problem, I believe it starts in person. It begins with teaching people that a woman who doesn’t fit the norm of what a female professor should be is not a bad professor. Changing the conversation’s direction and pointing it towards the professor’s teaching ability, not personal characteristics can make a big (and important) difference. It’s important that we, as a class that has become aware of this issue, makes a point to get our peers to learn about this issue.

  4. I definitely think that evaluations of professors are biased in one way or another. The post-finals mindset has influence on what is being posted about the professor in a particular class, because usually emotions are running high, which tends to block one’s clear judgment on a subject as a whole. The person may not have received the grade they thought they deserved, so instead of reflecting on the level of effort the student put into the class or how much of an active participant the student was in the learning environment, the individual is quick to accuse the professor as the cause of their “failure.” Of course, on a public platform open to students, future employers, etc., a negative image of the professor can be taken into consideration, which could damage the professor’s reputation and possible job promotion opportunities, such as tenure. Just like when asking other students about recommendations of teachers for a certain class, you have to take their responses with a grain of salt when making a decision about which teacher to choose, because each person has a different rate of learning and interest in a particular field of study. Through conversations with peers, a frequent question I hear students ask is, “Is this teacher and/or class hard? Because I need an easy A.” Many times I hear the “easy A” classes be referred to the classes taught by female professors rather than male professors. Reflecting on this, I believe this connotation relates to the stereotype of women being “soft” and “generous.” But wouldn’t you want to be challenged as a student via the content of the course no matter who is teaching it? I do think because the younger generations are growing up in a culture to be more reliant on their parents and continually seek others’ opinions rather than develop individual thought, there is a lack of responsibility and recognition of one’s own actions being the cause of the individual’s problems. In other words, it is easier to point fingers at someone else rather than look in the mirror and assess what the individual could do to make oneself better. Thus, to combat the gendered language in reviewing professors at the university, I propose that the surveys used for evaluations take out the questions referring to the skills of the teacher or questions referring to whether how the teacher taught the class met your expectations, rather the evaluations should focus on how to make the course content better.

  5. I think these gender disparities are definitely evident on rate my professor. In the past, there used to be a pepper rating for hotness, which was entirely based on looks, and female professors would always be more ranked on hotness than on ability, while male professors would be ranked on ability and teaching skill. This feature was removed, which meant that more people were ranking female professors on their skill, but more often than not, female teachers get negative reviews compared to the positive reviews given to their male coworkers. I think that the way that students rate professors on the platform is partially not their fault, as the society that we are living in perpetuates the idea that women have to be soft and if they aren’t they give off a negative impression. However, it is also the responsibility of students and people growing up in this generation to start moving away from these stereotypes and expectations, as it is our responsibility to change the way that men and women are seen and compared in modern society.

  6. When I first came to CNU I used rate my professor that initial semester to see what I was getting in to, as I was not the one who chose any of my classes that first semester freshman year. Right off the bat, I recognized that there was something different between the reviews for my male professors vs. my female professors. In posts about my new male Spanish professor, they talked about the harsh grading style that he had but they overall said that he was a fair teacher. However, the more I looked at the reviews, more and more they talked about his looks and attractiveness. While I thought that it was funny at first, I also thought it was interesting that it was one of the factors that was being used in a site that was supposed to be about their teaching abilities. This being said, when I went to search other professors, the same criteria that was said about my male professors with regards to the “fair grading”, was being called strict and bossy in the teaching style of my female professors. Connecting this to your article, I don’t find it surprising as it is something that we have discussed about a lot in class.

    Touching on the questions you posed:
    Have you seen the gender disparities in conversations with your peers about your professors? I think similarly to what someone earlier in the comments said, I find myself holding my female professors to a higher expectation than my male professors and when they do not meet those expectations I am more critical on them. While I hold expectations for my professors in general, when it comes to grading, organization, and overall teaching style, when my male professors do not meet these expectations I am more lenient to not analyze of criticize their behavior. I think that this also stems to my connection with my professors. I enjoy making connections with those I come in contact with on a daily basis, which extends to my professors. Therefore, when I do not make a strong connection with my male professors I am not as hurt as when I do not make a strong connection with my female professors, as I chalk it up to the fact that we are different genders. When in fact, there are probably more factors that contribute to the lack of connection. In addition, when I do not make a strong connection with a female professor, I am more hurt and almost let down as I assume that just because we are the same gender we will automatically have a connection.

    How else do you see gender disparities in higher education?
    I also see this gender disparity in the way that I interact with my boss. I have had this discussion with some of my other co-workers in the office about how sometimes we feel like we get away with actions or feel more likely to act a certain way due to the fact of our boss being a woman. While I know that this is not a good assumption to act upon, I cannot help but do it in some context. For example, I am late to work a lot (only by a few minutes) and I know that I can text my boss and her say that it’s okay, when I feel as though if I had a male boss I would be less likely to be late as frequently.

    Do you think these reviews have impact on the tenure process that many female professors have difficulty going through?
    While I don’t thin that the direct reviews have impact on the tenure process, meaning I don’t think that the board takes into consideration the reviews on this site when looking to tenure a professor. I do believe that it has some impact on the amount of people who end up taking a professor for class. Which, in turn could have an impact on their ability to get tenure, due to low numbers in their classes.

  7. While I am not surprised by the findings of the article, I know that something that I found when I looked at rate my professor was the commenting on the attractiveness of my male professors and all of them were in a positive light. However, any comments on the physical appearance of the female professors, were in a negative way. Not only this but the double binds are very apparent on the reviews read between the distinctions between the male and female professors on the site. The behavior deemed “harsh” or even “fair grading” with regards to classes taught by a male are deemed “overwhelming” or “unfair” when it comes to a class taught by a female professor.

    With regards to your question about seeing this in other areas of higher education, I see myself acting on this disparity and using it to my advantage in my work place. While, I am not proud of the fact that I do this, it is something that I have just recently become more aware of. In recent weeks I have had conversations with my fellow co-workers to see if they wonder the same thing I do, about how our actions at work may be different if we were to have a male boss. I know that one of the reasons that I love my work so much is the fact that my boss is a mentor and friend to me. I feel much safer going to her and discussing difficult things that may be occurring in my life and how they may be impacting my work, than I probably would be going to a male boss. This being said I also unfairly use it to my advantage as sometimes I know that I able to get by on being late to work without harsh consequences due to my good relationship built with her, which again is impart to her and I both being female.

    Another one of your questions that I thought was interesting was the one in regards to the impact that these ratings may have on tenure. While I don’t that they may have a direct impact on the tenure track of professors, they may have an indirect one. Meaning, I don’t think that the board when reviewing professors for tenure look into the reviews said on this site but, I think that these reviews could impact the numbers that the board do see. I am unsure of how many people continue to use Rate My Professor to this day, but I am sure that in its prime, the site was used by many to determine who to take for what courses. Therefore, if there were negative reviews and ratings for a certain professor I am sure that it would have an impact on the number of students that choose to enroll in that class, therefore impacting something that does factor into the tenure track. This idea, also touching on your last question of whether the post-final mindset has an impact on the language. I think that again this is only partially the answer. I think that if a student is going to review a professor after getting a negative grade from a class, regardless of the gender the review is going to have harsher language than one that is accurate to the class as a whole. This being said, I think that the regular reviews have a greater chance of being specific to gender and the double-binded language than the ones that are post-final, as they are able to well think out their ideas and the factors of gender are further engrained into the mind rather than spur of the moment.

  8. hile I am not surprised by the findings of the article, I know that something that I found when I looked at rate my professor was the commenting on the attractiveness of my male professors and all of them were in a positive light. However, any comments on the physical appearance of the female professors, were in a negative way. Not only this but the double binds are very apparent on the reviews read between the distinctions between the male and female professors on the site. The behavior deemed “harsh” or even “fair grading” with regards to classes taught by a male are deemed “overwhelming” or “unfair” when it comes to a class taught by a female professor.

    With regards to your question about seeing this in other areas of higher education, I see myself acting on this disparity and using it to my advantage in my work place. While, I am not proud of the fact that I do this, it is something that I have just recently become more aware of. In recent weeks I have had conversations with my fellow co-workers to see if they wonder the same thing I do, about how our actions at work may be different if we were to have a male boss. I know that one of the reasons that I love my work so much is the fact that my boss is a mentor and friend to me. I feel much safer going to her and discussing difficult things that may be occurring in my life and how they may be impacting my work, than I probably would be going to a male boss. This being said I also unfairly use it to my advantage as sometimes I know that I able to get by on being late to work without harsh consequences due to my good relationship built with her, which again is impart to her and I both being female.

    Another one of your questions that I thought was interesting was the one in regards to the impact that these ratings may have on tenure. While I don’t that they may have a direct impact on the tenure track of professors, they may have an indirect one. Meaning, I don’t think that the board when reviewing professors for tenure look into the reviews said on this site but, I think that these reviews could impact the numbers that the board do see. I am unsure of how many people continue to use Rate My Professor to this day, but I am sure that in its prime, the site was used by many to determine who to take for what courses. Therefore, if there were negative reviews and ratings for a certain professor I am sure that it would have an impact on the number of students that choose to enroll in that class, therefore impacting something that does factor into the tenure track. This idea, also touching on your last question of whether the post-final mindset has an impact on the language. I think that again this is only partially the answer. I think that if a student is going to review a professor after getting a negative grade from a class, regardless of the gender the review is going to have harsher language than one that is accurate to the class as a whole. This being said, I think that the regular reviews have a greater chance of being specific to gender and the double-binded language than the ones that are post-final, as they are able to well think out their ideas and the factors of gender are further engrained into the mind rather than spur of the moment.

  9. I definitely see gender discrepancies among men and women professors in higher education. STEM majors often have more women than men as professors and vice versa for humanities majors. Also, I have noticed in many of my classes that students are much harder on female professors if they have challenging coursework than male professors. One of my male professors has shown sexist tendencies in his classroom in that he is extremely hard on his female students yet the male students are allowed to slide in their coursework. This professor has caused me to go many nights without sleep to complete his assignments just for him to yell at me to work harder and tear apart the work I have already done. Yet somehow, he is many of the students’ favorite teacher at CNU. I have had female professors in the class who assign a lot of work and are very particular about how they want work done and are often deemed as unreasonable or bossy by students. My mother is a college professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, and has told me that she has given up looking at her rate my professor ever since one year she had emergency dental work done and all of her responses were complaining that she had a lisp and was hard to understand. She also tells me about how often she is disrespected in the classroom because students try to take advantage of how kind she is and do poor work then at the end of the semester beg her to raise their grade or fight with her about how unfair she is in her assignments.I find it ridiculous that male professors who are bad at their job and disrespect their students are deemed better teachers than female professors who create challenging workloads for college students.

  10. Unfortunately, I have seen differences in the way some of my peers have discussed female professors. One in particular that comes to mind is a girl who creates nicknames for professors she doesn’t like. Even though she only makes a nickname for them because she dislikes them, I have realized that a majority, if not all, of the professors she does this for are female and she tends not to like them for their supposed “eccentricity” which boils down to being a “gentler” person. Basically the more “nurturing” aspect that you mentioned in your blog. I try not to encourage her anyways because I don’t really think it’s kind or fair to the professor, but I’m not sure if she realizes she has a gender bias towards her professors either.

    On the surface, it did surprise me to read how people can be so unconsciously unfair towards a certain gender, since I tend to be a more optemistic person. However, deep down, it really didn’t surprise me at all. After having so many classes discussing just how ingrained into our society it is to treat women differently than men, it really doesn’t surprise me that this would carry over into something like professor ratings where one would hope the focus would be on academics instead of whether the female professor is wearing fashion forward clothing to class or not.

  11. I really like this post because Rate My Professor is a tool I have absolutely used in the past, but it is not one I have even considered as contributing to gender discrepancies and biases. However, I cannot say the results of the study done on the site does not surprise me at all. This reminds me of a discussion we had in class earlier this semester regarding our expectations of teachers/professors once we find out their genders. I, like many others, have unfortunately fallen prey to the idea that it is sometimes better to sign up for a female professor because she may be easier or more ‘nurturing’ than a male professor. Now that I have been in college for almost two full years now, I have found that that is absolutely not true. Some of my most difficult classes, and ones that I have learned the most, have been taught by women. Not to say that I haven’t had phenomenal male professors as well, but I have certainly had some that were not so great and some that could absolutely be classified as ‘pushovers.’

    Rate My Professor was a site I have always been incredibly skeptical of, actually. My very first semester of college I actually refused to look up my professor because I did not want to have any preconceived biases before beginning my classes. I do use the website now, but I still take everything with a grain of salt and I actually rely on friends who have taken the professors in the past, because I trust their opinions more. I remember discussing in a statistics class of mine years ago that people tend to only leave reviews for people when they have something wildly negative to say, therefore reviews tend to be a place to get a bad experience off of your chest rather than giving fair and genuine feedback.

    There have also been times that I have read a review on a professor and been actually appalled by what I read. Last year I was signed up for a leadership with a female professor who was supposed to be in high demand, so I was excited I got a slot in her class. I remember going to look at her reviews on Rate My Professor, and I remember a comment saying that the class was great but it was difficult to focus because she was so attractive. That comment has never left my mind, and I remember beings so annoyed when I read that because, not only was it not helpful at all, but it was demeaning to this female professor who even has her PhD. In fact, the comment actually recommended not taking her class if you were male because you wouldn’t be able to focus. I was so disgusted when I read that because I thought it was so unfair to put a statement like that out on the Internet about an intelligent and hard-working woman, who was being discredited for her attractive appearance. Needless to say Rate My Professor is not my favorite tool, but I do still use it.


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