Lecturers of Chinese and Korean heritage in US universities are rated far more harshly by students on Rate My Professors than American staff, a study says.
Students are also less likely to post praise about staff of southeast Asian heritage, with comments instead centred on an individual’s accent, according to the latest analysis to cast doubt on the reliability of results on the staff evaluation website.
Nicholas Close Subtirelu, a graduate student at Georgia State University’s department of applied linguistics and ESL, compared the comments and ratings on Rate My Professors given to nearly 1,100 mathematics instructors with Chinese and Korean surnames against those awarded to a similar number of maths staff with Western surnames.
Staff with Asian names scored 0.6 to 0.8 lower on the five-point Likert scale than staff with “US names” when it came to “clarity”, one of Rate My Professors’ scoring metrics, Mr Subtirelu found. They also scored lower on “helpfulness”, according to a paper by Mr Subtirelu published this month in the Language in Society journal.
Mr Subtirelu admits that the lower ratings for Asian staff, who are often employed as graduate teaching assistants in US maths and engineering departments, may reflect some justified concerns about their weaker language ability. However, the high number of commenters who objected to staff “who can’t speak English” suggested this explanation was “simplistic”, Mr Subtirelu told Times Higher Education.
“There’s ample reason not to take these comments at face value,” he said, adding that students may exaggerate the communication problems they face or do little to iron out relatively simple problems in understanding foreign staff.
“If both parties are willing to do the work that it takes to communicate – if they share the communicative burden – then communication will likely be successful,” he said.
His findings confirmed other research, which found that students valued courses or instructors that yield the highest grade with the least amount of effort, said Mr Subtirelu. Students had often written approvingly that “this class is an easy A”, he said.
“The easiest A then is to be found not with the instructor with the Chinese or Korean last name, but with the name that suggests the instructor is originally from the US,” he said.
Some university rankings, such as Forbes, now use RMP to rate teaching quality. Ratings on the site send a “message to students that a large minority of their faculty are less desirable as instructors, ultimately promoting a nationalist view of higher education”, he said.