A theme of the task force’s entire work was finding ways to reduce bias in teaching ratings and provide support to instructors who are marginalized at Iowa as a historically and predominately white institution. Our initial intention was to add items about fairness, understanding of the importance of diversity, and commitment to diversity. However, feedback from numerous faculty groups (including faculty of color) warned us against this practice.
Specifically, we took draft items about fairness and about commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion into our first consultations. The concerns raised were based both on experience of women and faculty of color, and on research. First, faculty noted that students from majority backgrounds have been known to react negatively to faculty from marginalized backgrounds, especially in cases when the students’ views are challenged, where they receive constructive feedback. Faculty of color in our consultations specifically noted that they see students get defensive and even angry when they receive low grades, which are perceived as “unfair” or biased against the student because the faculty member is a minority. These experiences are consistent with national research which suggests that majority students may question the authority of women and faculty of color, and this may reduce ratings for broadly stated items about instructor effectiveness, including (ironically) items about fairness.
We concluded that adding items on diversity, and in fact any general impression items such as “I recommend this instructor” might have the complete opposite effect intended by increasing opportunities for students to express bias against female faculty and faculty of color. Every effort was made to select items that describe relatively specific course and instructor behaviors or characteristics, rather than student general impressions, which have been shown to be much more subject to both implicit and explicit biases.
In addition, the open-ended questions were designed to provide students with an opportunity to raise issues that are not explicitly addressed in the rating-scale questions (such as DEI concerns) and to provide more detailed feedback. The proposed Action Committee in the Next Steps section will be charged with reviewing questions after an initial trial period and investigating the extent to which these questions provide sufficient opportunities for students to voice their concerns about their experiences in a course.