Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Professors Love Answering Cold Emails from White Dudes, "Meh" on Everyone Else

From NPR's transcript of a Morning Edition story:

Group of researchers ran this interesting field experiment. They emailed more than 6,500 professors at the top 250 schools pretending to be the students. And they wrote letters saying, I really admire your work. Would you have some time to meet? The letters to the faculty were all identical, but the names of the students were all different. [...] Brad Anderson. Meredith Roberts. Lamar Washington. LaToya Brown. Juanita Martinez. Deepak Patel, Sonali Desai, Chang Wong, Mei Chen. [...]

All they were measuring was how often professors wrote back agreeing to meet with the students. And what they found was there were very large disparities. Women and minorities [were] systematically less likely to get responses from the professors and also less likely to get positive responses from the professors. Now remember, these are top faculty at the top schools in the United States and the letters were all impeccably written.

Two more kickers: "There's absolutely no benefit seen when women reach out to female faculty, nor do we see benefits from black students reaching out to black faculty or Hispanic students reaching out to Hispanic faculty," and, "In business academia, we see a 25 percentage point gap in the response rate to Caucasian males vs. women and minorities." Word, this sounds great, we're doing great. [NPR]

16 Comments / Post A Comment


Wow. Thanks for sharing. Shocking and sad that the race/gender of professors made no difference at all - just goes to show how ingrained bias is.


@19548915@twitter: Actually, race did make a difference for Chinese students and marginally for Indian students. Both of these groups benefitted when contacting faculty of the same race.

Better to Eat You With

Wait, were these names of the professors' actual students? Or random names? Because hell will freeze over before I answer anybody who is not presently enrolled in a course I teach, or a very memorable former student, regardless of their name.


@Better to Eat You With Of course, but your responses would therefore not register a difference according to name, whereas results of the study did, you see?


@Better to Eat You With: And hell will freeze over before I enroll in a course taught by a professor who can't be bothered to read the primary source to answer his/her own question.


Question: were all the emails sent out on the same day, at the same time? Did these top faculty members receive emails from the different gender and ethnicities of students?



Answer: Yes. It was actually a pretty well-designed study. The emails were sent out at 8am on the same day, and each faculty member only received one email, although they studied thousands of faculty members, so some got female, some got male, etc. Some were same-race and some were different-race.

Source: I read the full paper published at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2063742


I wasn't surprised to see a racial-effect, but I was surprised to see any gender effect. Since I was skeptical that the response rates were 25% lower across the board if you weren't a white male, I looked up the study. It turns out that the white male vs white female response rate gap was 1% different in public universities and 9% different in private colleges. So, if you're a white woman at a public university, you're seeing no discrimination relative to white males. Based on those results, we're seeing very little sexism.


BritX - you may want to look at the study itself.

Yes, for caucasian women *overall* it's a 1% difference at public schools, 9% at private.

But, if you look at it by FIELD, it paints a different picture. Closer to 20% for caucasian womem in *business*, health sciences.

Unfortuantely, the version of the study I'm looking at seems to be missing some data tables.


@95074424@twitter: The data tables referenced in the body are all at the end of the paper.


Also, worth being aware that if you're a woman who is *not* white, there's a significant gender-based discrimination gap, but it's complex. For example, Chinese women were facing more discrimination than chinese men, but hispanic women faced less discrimination than hispanic men. (Indian women and men faced more similar levels of discrimination).

I'm also not sure why you call 9% lower response rate at private universities among white women "very little sexism."


> "I'm also not sure why you call 9% lower response rate at private universities among white women "very little sexism.""

Very little sexism at public universities. If we expand it to all universities and you average 1% and 9%, you still come up with a 5% number. To put that in context: if 25 white guys contact a professor and 25 white girls contact a professor, the professor responds to 20 of the 25 white guys and 19 of the 25 white girls. That's a pretty small difference, don't you think? I'm surprised that you're complaining about my characterization, and not about the hyperbolic headline: "Professors Love Answering Cold Emails from White Dudes, "Meh" on Everyone Else". Yeah, that's a fair assessment of what's going on based on 20/25 vs 19/25. [/sarcasm]

It's obvious that race plays a much larger role than sexism, despite the that that the article tries to make it about white guys vs everyone else, lumping white girls in with people who actually have it worse.

Derek Jun@facebook

@Better to Eat With, you might have a point here. A potential flaw with the study is that it might be picking up on the professor's uncertainty as to the enrollment status of the email sender. When a professor receives an random email from a student, a white male name probably has the highest chance of actually being enrolled in the class without the professor remembering it as such.


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