Exploring the Personal and Professional Factors Associated with Student Evaluations of Tenure-Track Faculty

Abstract

Tenure-track faculty members in the United States are evaluated on their performance in both research and teaching. In spite of accusations of bias and invalidity, student evaluations of teaching have dominated teaching evaluation at U.S. universities. However, studies on the topic have tended to be limited to particular institutional and disciplinary contexts. Moreover, in spite of the idealistic assumption that research and teaching are mutually beneficial, few studies have examined the link between research performance and student evaluations of teaching. In this study, we conduct a large scale exploratory analysis of the factors associated with student evaluations of teachers, controlling for heterogeneous institutional and disciplinary contexts. We source public student evaluations of teaching from RateMyProfessor.com and information regarding career and contemporary research performance indicators from the company Academic Analytics. The factors most associated with higher student ratings were the attractiveness of the faculty and the student’s interest in the class; the factors most associated with lower student ratings were course difficulty and whether student comments mentioned an accent or a teaching assistant. Moreover, faculty tended to be rated more highly when they were young, male, White, in the Humanities, and held a rank of full professor. We observed little to no evidence of any relationship, positive or negative, between student evaluations of teaching and research performance. These results shed light on what factors relate to student evaluations of teaching across diverse contexts and contribute to the continuing discussion teaching evaluation and faculty assessment.

Publication
PLOS ONE