Natural advantages

June 12, 2014

Graham Gibbs argues for the validity of students’ instructional evaluations of their professors as measures of teaching quality “You don’t have to guess at who’s doing well”, Teaching intelligence, 5 June). He also says “…and so this is not a beauty contest”. Actually, it is: research for the US, corroborated for Germany, demonstrates that better-looking teachers are evaluated more favourably than their less good-looking peers.

The importance of beauty does not vitiate the role of good teaching in student evaluations. It does mean that using student evaluations for hiring and promotion decisions requires being somewhat careful about their meaning and perhaps even adjusting for the instructors’ probably irrelevant looks. This is especially important in lower-level classes, as the research demonstrates that the role of beauty is greater where students are less able to discern how well the instructor understands the material and can exposit it.

Daniel S. Hamermesh
Royal Holloway, University of London

David de Meza
London School of Economics

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