In things that are absolutely the worst but should surprise no one because we live in a sexist society, a law school dean had to send out a strongly worded email to students reminding them that judging an instructor on their sexiness is not part of the approved student evaluation criteria.
As Above The Law points out, sexism is rampant in the legal world. And as a college instructor myself, I can safely tell you that sexually harassing female teachers in evaluations is not just something law schools have a problem with. In fact, while I get charming evals about how ugly my sweaters are (true), many of my female colleagues are forced to read reviews about their appearance as well as sexual desirability. It's nice to know that students appreciate you for your teaching abilities, but it's even nicer to know that they're so comfortable in the classroom environment you've set up that they don't mind telling the administration (on an official form) that they'd absolutely have sex with you if the opportunity presented itself.
Vice Dean Adam F. Scales of Rutgers Law-Camden sent the student body an email which began with the admission that his style of dress has been questionable during his teaching career but that no one has ever written about it because he's male. And then he laid the smackdown on sexism in a really nice way that most people who make rude comments about female teachers will still ignore.
Here's the dean's message:
It has come to my attention that a student submitted an evaluation that explored, in some detail, the fashion stylings of one of your professors. It will surprise no one possessing the slightest familiarity with student evaluations that this professor is a woman. Women are frequently targets of evaluative commentary that, in addition to being wildly inappropriate and adolescent, is almost never directed at men. Believe me, I am about the last person on this faculty for whom the "sexism" label falls readily to hand, but after a lifetime of hearing these stories, I know it when I see it. Anyone who doubts this would find it instructive to stop by and ask any one of our female professors about this and similar dynamics.
Student evaluations are an important tool. They are also a public one, and become part of the permanent record of every faculty member. (Not the bit of fashion advice at issue here, which I struck from the evaluation system in a nanosecond.)
Some students are really proud of Scales' email and are grateful that someone is acknowledging the fact that female instructors are often harassed by their students (TAs, of course, are harassed too—several of my informal mid-semester evals have included comments about dating female assistants). But the comments on Above the Law are not reassuring. In between LOLs at the school's expense and reminders that men get harassed too, there are several charming notes informing the writer that women who dress inappropriately for work shouldn't not expect to be called out on it. Great! Except maybe it should be the people who are actually working in this environment—not taking classes and writing invasive evaluations—that get to decide what's inappropriate and what's not.
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