Academics typically evaluate undergraduates’ essays and exams, and perhaps their seminar contributions too. At the University of Warsaw, however, faculty have been assessing how physically attractive students are.
The unusual experiment was conducted as part of a study that tested whether physical attractiveness affected the grades awarded to students.
Under the direction of Michał Krawczyk, an assistant professor in Warsaw’s Faculty of Economic Sciences, 2,607 photographs of former students, drawn from the university's database, were “rated” by 110 academics. Each lecturer viewed 80 photographs – 10 that were the same for everyone (five men and five women) and 70 chosen at random. They then gave each photograph a score ranging from “very unattractive” to “very attractive” on a 0 to 10 scale.
The research, published in Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, notes that a "static image of the face" does not always "reliably capture overall physical attractiveness" and that some students "took much greater care of their clothing, hairstyle and/or make-up when taking the photograph than others”.
Nevertheless, Professor Krawczyk was able to conclude – as part of a wider study drawing on data from 15,000 former students – that despite there being “some evidence that females indeed get relatively high grades from advisers”, there was “no evidence of influence of physical attractiveness”.
While this might be a reassuring conclusion, some might question whether the means justified the end, in ethical terms at least. But Professor Krawczyk sought to allay any concerns over lecturers rating the attractiveness of undergraduates.
He told Times Higher Education that faculty members "have access to the pictures of the students all the time, and these are former students, so I don’t think we have encouraged any type of inappropriate judgement. I don’t think we’re doing something terribly bad; they’re just faces, it’s not [full] body pictures or anything like that.”
He added that people are “used to being evaluated” on their looks all the time, and because they are required to submit their photograph to the university, they know “a lot of people will have access to that”.
“[Also] if you have a Facebook account it’s possible someone will judge whether you’re pretty or not, so in this sense I don’t think it’s such a major concern,” he said. “I personally wouldn’t have a problem...if someone said my face was ugly or not ugly. Of course, it’s a personal thing.”
Did any participating faculty raise any issues about the study, which was cleared by Professor Krawczyk’s departmental ethics committee?
“Some said it was a peculiar study,” he reflected, “but no one reproached us specifically for doing something terribly bad.”