AAUP and Nevada Faculty Alliance File Brief in Gender-Bias Case

The AAUP and the Nevada Faculty Alliance (NFA) filed a joint amicus brief in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in support of a former University of Nevado, Reno, assistant professor whose tenure denial was based largely on a tenure committee's assessment of student evaluations of her teaching. The professor, Alice Wieland, unsuccessfully requested reconsideration of the decision, citing research on gender bias in student evaluations of teaching (SETs). She filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging that her tenure denial violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition on sex-based discrimination, and is now appealing a federal district court's grant of summary judgment against her claim.

Urging the Ninth Circuit to reverse the district court's decision, the joint brief argues that courts should take account of research showing that gender bias in evaluations often results in more negative assessments of women instructors, and that the use of SETs in connection with adverse employment actions can, in certain circumstances, serve as evidence of sex-based disparate treatment under Title VII. Noting that Wieland had won awards for her research, teaching, and service, the brief asserts that improper use of SETs runs contrary to professional standards, and that when decisions such as tenure denials “turn on metrics that are not only unreliable but that also reflect gender or other unacceptable biases, they result in impermissible discrimination."

As discussed in the brief, the AAUP has long opposed discrimination on the basis of gender and other protected characteristics and has long stressed the need for judicious use of student evaluations as measures of instructional quality.

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, August 23, 2023