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05/21/2020

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Bias?

On the one hand, if there is a left-leaning bias at universities, then there is no need to worry. In fact, this may work to the person's favor. If there a real bias against lefties, then it may be bad. But given we do not know either way, the candidate should just send them along in their teaching dossier. They will certainly signal that they are complete.
These sorts of things are worried about far too much. Such details rarely (if ever) kill an application.

Trevor Hedberg

Honestly, based on a mere 5 evaluations from one semester, I'd advise doing absolutely nothing. There's no reason to believe that this small sample reflects anything meaningful about your teaching unless they occur again in later semesters. If it persists, then maybe you try to add a reading or two that present more conservative stances on whatever issues you're discussing if you think your choice of course content should be politically balanced.

DS

Three thoughts here:

1) I am doubtful that deans are carefully reading through the qualitative comments section of each class you have ever taught when it comes time for tenure. If this was a recurring theme in your evals, then it could be a problem.
2) A good way to avoid these charges of bias is to always make use of contrasting pieces when possible.So, e.g., an article for and against applied ethical issue x. This also forces you to present the arguments of a view you may disagree with, which can confuse students as to what you actually believe. In fact, one of my goals is to always confuse students as to what I believe. The classes are not about what I think, but about the content of the assigned readings.

3) The pronouns thing, if that is what students complained about, will not cause a problem for you. Requiring students to respect each other is not something that is typically looked down upon by administrators!

Michel

I would suggest ensuring that your assessments are marked anonymously if they aren't already (or by the LMS, if that's part of your class). Then, at least, you can be sure you're pretty much safe from charges of retaliatory grading, which just leaves you with whatever you say in class, or the readings you assign. And I wouldn't worry much about the latter two.

I also suggest explaining to students why you're asking them to submit their work anonymously. That way, you're telling them you're doing it to be as fair as possible, and so that your assessment of their work isn't coloured by your positive (or negative) impressions of them in class. That's what sticks in their minds about your grading: you're concerned about being fair to them. That comes back on my evaluations every semester: Michel is a very fair marker, he's very careful to be fair, etc.

Amanda

I think that if professors are not going to teach in a neutral manner, they need to come out and say that from the start, and offer students the chance to challenge them. It is possible to teach neutrally, regardless of your political views. That's just how I teach. I am not claiming it is better overall, that's complicated, but it has the benefit of not isolating a large chunk of students. If someone is a skilled philosophers decent arguments can be made for any position - we are talking about undergrads here, it doesn't need to be a phil review type argument.

Prof L

Maybe I’ll be the odd one out here and say that maybe you should reflect on the manner in which your teaching is biased, and think about ways to approach that. 5/45 with the same negative comment is a significant proportion. If 5/45 are saying it, many more are thinking it. If that many are thinking it, you are alienating a significant portion of the class, and it’s good that they are letting you know about that. Not all teachers whose views are out of sync with those of their students are labeled ‘biased’. Bias is something else.

When bias is a problem, it’s not because we have particular views, it’s because students feel like their views aren’t welcome. Are you possibly more likely to respond positively to a student comment or an assignment if it accords with your view of things? Do you encourage students to speak up, help them to articulate and work out their views even when you don’t like what they have to say? Do you present plausible objections to views with which you agree? How could you do these things better?

The natural reaction to negative comments is to get defensive. But opening yourself up to what is motivating the comment and how to change to address that concern can be really good for your teaching.

Scott Hill

I tend to agree with Prof L. If I have 1 out of 45 students complain about something I ignore it. If I have 2 complain I start to pay attention. When I have 5 people complaining about the same thing I definitely think I should adjust something about my teaching.

Sam Duncan

I have to add my vote to Prof L and Scott Hill. Now I'll admit that it's hard to know what to do with complaints of bias. Inevitably you're going to have a student or two every now and then who alleges some kind of bias against their views. For some people any criticism of any of their views is a failure to respect them or some kind of bias. Moreover, this is worse with students in philosophy courses since there's a widespread view that since philosophy is "just opinion" if they don't get the grade they won't it just means the prof doesn't like their views and is hence biased against them.
But if over 10% of your evals in a class claim bias that is really something you should take seriously. I don't remember ever getting more than maybe three complaints about supposed political bias in the course evaluations for an entire semester. For me that's five courses. Often I don't have any and when I do it's usually 1 or 2. If I got five in a semester I'd ask myself some questions and five in one class is definitely cause for concern. How serious a concern would I supposed depend on the content and assignments in question. One thing I'll add by way of a suggestion is that having a pretty detailed rubric and closely and explicitly tying your grading to that in papers, discussion posts, and similar assignments will do a surprising amount to address complaints about bias.

cinchloc

I would agree with Prof L. I make a point to teach my introductory courses in a way that doesn't reveal my views. If students ask about my views during class, I always demure. I think it's better to show students that you are interested in evaluating both sides of the issues and you think they should attempt to make a fair evaluation themselves. Students can pick up on subtle signs of bias, and you don't want them to feel closed off.

Amanda

Interesting, there seems to be unclarity here about whether the "bias" was in the teaching or the grading. My assumption was the teaching. I think students upset about grading would make a comment like, "unfair grading," and also, because the poster admits that they understand why the students might say they are biased. I suspect the poster is not admitting to grading people differently because of their political views, but rather, to the way the poster expressed themselves when teaching.

I agree that 5/45 is a lot. But how to change this depends on the type of professor someone happens to be. Some professors have a really hard time teaching neutrally, and for them I think it might be best to admit they have a "bias" and explain that students who disagree are welcome to challenge them. On the other hand, if one CAN see themselves adjusting and teaching neutrally (i.e. they can always teach both sides of an argument, without making it obvious with which side they personally adhere) then I think they should seriously consider doing so. Fundamentally, I think philosophy undergrad classes are about learning to think critically and learning to think for one's self. This seems more likely to happen in the absence of social pressure to conform to one type of view that is considered the "right" view. I do think that if a professor's views are obvious, that often comes with social pressure for students to also adhere to those views. After all, the professor is the 'expert' in the area. For lots of other classes, disagreeing with the professor really is silly. Philosophy is a different discipline.

Prof L

Just to be clear, I don't think the options are to either be biased or hide your views. One can be open about their views while welcoming of others. Maybe that's something that comes naturally to some and not others. But I am pretty open about my views (e.g., I'll say, "I'm a theist, but the problem of evil troubles me, this is why" or "I disagree with Aquinas about such-and-such, but I think he has real insight into this other thing. What do you think?") My views are out of sync with the majority of my students. Always I score highest on the eval question related to people feeling comfortable expressing their views. I've never been called biased.

Since people seem to be saying you should hide your views, I wanted to say I don't think that, necessarily. I mean, it's up to the individual. I decided I didn't want to hide my views, so I tried to find a way to express them while encouraging people to express views that differ from mine.

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