Women Faculty at Work in the Classroom



The honest truth is that some of the students are sexist in their attitudes towards professors. This is a fact I have realized only gradually–for a long time I thought it was my personal fault that certain things were happening.1  

Men and women faculty, teaching the same subject to the same class, often have very different experiences from one another. Several years ago Roberta M. Hall and I coined the term “chilly climate” to describe the many small behaviors that together make up an inhospitable situation for women in academe. The first report on the chilly climate described how faculty often treated women and men students in the classroom.2 For example, many professors–men and women alike–tend to call on male students more often, make more eye contact with male students, respond more to male students’ omments, and interrupt women more. By giving men students the greater share of classroom attention, faculty unknowingly create a climate that explicitly or subtly interferes with the development of women students’ self-confidence, academic participation, and career goals.3  

A subsequent report examined the chilly climate for women faculty, administrators and graduate students, focusing particularly on how colleagues treat women faculty and administrators differently than men.4 Other reports described the chilly climate for students outside of the classroom,5 the chilly climate for Black and Hispanic women in academe,6 and how male students create an exceptionally chilly climate for women students by hassling them.7   All of these reports documented that the experiences of women on campus are substantially different from those of men.

This report deals with another aspect of the chilly climate–how students (male and female) treat women and men faculty differently. As I travel around the country speaking and conducting workshops on campuses I hear remarkably similar stories from women faculty, talking about their classroom experiences with students. For example,

I think female faculty have more trouble, not exactly being respected, but being taken seriously, especially by male students. Male students... seem to want to show you they’re your equals, sometimes even your superiors.8  

I have had consistent problems from male students in the form of rudeness, condescension, unruliness, challenges to authority... I’ve even been asked about my boyfriend, asked if I had my degree.9  

Female colleagues have received obscene and angry calls, terribly gender-biased evaluations, and harassment in the form of insults on the blackboard in the elevator.10  

This report builds on the earlier chilly climate reports and is based on:

   a growing body of research which describes how students–both male and female–treat women faculty differently than male faculty,11  
   materials from campus reports on the status of women, and
   conversations with women faculty members in all types of institutions, disciplines and settings.

The behaviors which are discussed do not occur in every class, and some are also directed at male faculty members, although not to the same degree. When these behaviors occur again and again they send a powerful message to the woman professor and to students that women are outsiders to the academic enterprise.

Differential Expectations and the Double Bind

I find that students expect female professors to be more malleable and supportive than male professors–whether these students are men or women–and are sometimes resentful of professors who deal with them as professionals, not as earth mothers.12  

Although most people like to believe that they are free of sexism, each of us has deeply buried beliefs and expectations of which we may be unaware. All of us, for example, have expectations about how men and women are “supposed” to behave in various situations. Despite conscious beliefs that men and women are “equal” we may nevertheless still expect men to be competent, to be in charge, to take initiatives, and to be strong, and expect women to be more passive and receptive, to be followers rather than leaders, to be nurturing rather than assertive, and to be emotionally responsive rather than distant.

When men and women behave according to our expectations we are comfortable and approving. But when someone violates these deeply held expectations, men and women alike often become uncomfortable, disapproving or defensive.

Students too have gender-related expectations of their professors.13   Many of these beliefs subsequent behaviors are below the level of awareness, or may be seen as “normal.” Students tend to expect women to be more personal, more supportive and motherly than their male teachers. Women, in general, are expected to smile, be friendly and not look “serious”; and there are other stereotypic expectations for women’s clothing and voice quality. Additionally, women are expected to de deferent and accepting of other’s (especially men’s) behaviors and opinions. To the extent that students expect a woman to make them “feel good,” “not cause trouble,” and to soother the emotions of others, they may well be uncomfortable with a faculty member’s responsibility to challenge students, to stir them up intellectually, and to have authority over them.

Both male and female students may also expect women faculty members to be more supportive listeners, thus confiding more personal problems to women faculty, and taking up time that male faculty members are not asked to expend. Women faculty members therefore tend to have a much higher load of informal advising, especially with women students. Some students, perhaps expecting women faculty members to be forgiving (somewhat like ideal mothers) put more pressure on women faculty for special treatment, such as requests to extend a deadline, and thus they are angrier at a female professor who refuses such special treatment than at a male professor who acts the same way. Yet when women do act more motherly, that is often seen as being in conflict with the notion of what a good teacher is; someone who is nurturing is not readily viewed as a strong, intellectual, dynamic teacher.

At the same time that students may expect more caring and warm behavior from a woman faculty member, they may nevertheless interpret such behavior as weakness, perhaps seeing it as “too feminine.”14 However, should a woman faculty member act in a strong and assertive member–like her male colleagues–she may be viewed as “too masculine.” Thus women faculty are often caught in a double bind: no matter how they act, their behavior is “not quite right.” A woman faculty member is often viewed as an anomaly. Her very presence makes some of her students uncomfortable even before she speaks. Roughly one quarter of first-year male and female students agree with the statement that “Married women’s activities are best confined to home and family”–a belief that certainly affects their behavior toward women faculty members.15  

Yet most students, if asked, would see themselves as being fair to their teachers and would not be aware that they were treating women faculty differently, in part because the behaviors and expectations around women are considered part and parcel of our daily life.

The Devaluation of Women

[Women faculty] have to be enormously credible before students will listen to them. Male faculty might be viewed as eccentric, they might be ridiculed or imitated, but they would never be attacked as incompetent. For women, the connotation of incompetence is always tacked on.16  

Despite having the same name plates on our doors [both were “Professor X” or “Professor Y”] and despite my male colleaguelooking extremely young for his age and being brand new [here], I was routinely asked when I would finish my doctorate–whether I was doing an M.A. or a Ph.D. The students were just amazed when I said I’d had my doctorate for eight years already. I asked my male colleague whether he ever got such inquiries. He’s been out only one year when he started teaching and had spoken to me about difficulties he’s had with some of his students. But he said he had never had any such comments. In fact, it was rather gratifying; he was shocked. He couldn’t believe a student would challenge a faculty member that way.17  

Respondent 10 is still routinely asked if she has taught the course before. “They look utterly shocked when I say I’ve taught most of my courses 15-18 years–sometimes longer than they’ve been alive.”18  

There are numerous studies showing that gender affects the way in which we view a person’s competence and how we evaluate that person’s behaviors and achievements.19   Typically, two similar groups of people are asked to rate a collection of something such as a set of articles, or pictures of works of art, or resumes. The names of the authors or creators are switched for each group, so that those items ascribed to men in the first group are ascribed to women in the second group. The results of these studies are remarkably consistent: When an item has a male name ascribed to it, it receives a higher rating than when the same article has a female name ascribed to it. Both women and men do this: they devalue those items ascribed to females. Similarly, success for men and women is viewed differently: men’s success is typically attributed to talent; women’s success is more likely to be attributed to luck, or affirmative action. The identical behavior is often viewed differently for men and women. For example, men are “forthright”; women are “abrasive.” Men have “judgement”; women have “intuition,” which is considered far less reliable than good “judgement.”

Devaluation can also take the form of negative body language–turning away, lack of eye contact with the faculty member and other forms of inattentiveness. More importantly, statements made by women faculty members may be given less credence than those made by male faculty members. Some students have difficulty respecting a woman’s authority. Women faculty are often called “Miss”, “Ms.” or “Mrs.” rather than “Professor” or “Dr.” Some students simply discount some or much of what she says. For a woman of color, these problems are typically more acute: she is doubly devalued–both for being a woman and for being a member of a minority group.20  

The devaluation of women means that women are more likely to be scrutinized more and held to higher standards than men.21 Students who are tolerant of a male faculty member’s lack of professionalism may nevertheless expect women to meet a higher standard of formal preparation and organization. For example, the male model of a teacher, for many students, is that of the wise authority, with the student as a passive learner. In one study, a highly structured instructional approach was viewed by students as more professional, so that when women faculty members used more collaborative and innovative methods of teaching they were seen as less competent than men faculty members.22 Thus, a woman teacher who is trying to actively engage students in the learning process may instead be perceived as being disorganized or less knowledgeable. Other faculty members may perceive women engaged in collaborative teaching in a negative member: in one school a woman whose teaching was being evaluated by a senior faculty member was told that her class had been out of control. She asked what he meant by that and he replied “Why, students just called out questions and answers without waiting for you to call on them.”23  

In research not linked to the classroom, Butler and Geis found that in mixed groups of men and women, both men and women were more likely to respond to women leaders with scowls and frowns, while nodding and smiling at male leaders who made the identical statements.24   In a classroom it may be that women faculty are getting less reinforcement for teaching than their male counterparts because students scowl and frown more often at them than their male counterparts. (Scowling and frowning may also occur when women students speak or are given attention by the teacher.) Even those students who do not frown at women teachers may nevertheless be affected: they see others frowning and may interpret it as evidence that the woman is not a credible teacher. This may, in part, explain why women may be more likely to get poor student evaluations than men do.

Some studies (but not all) show that students rate their female professors more harshly than their male professors. In one study, where women students gave their female professors somewhat higher ratings than the men, the women still viewed the male professors as more dynamic and as better teachers.25 How well women fit the stereotypes of “femininity” can also affect their evaluations by students. One study found that ratings of women faculty were strongly affected by whether they smiled and were sociable, but these factors were less important to the ratings of men.26 Another study noted that women who presented themselves in traditional feminine ways were rated less competent than women who did not.27  

Although both men and women students report that they do indeed get more attention and time from women faculty, the students nevertheless do not rate the women faculty as more accessible in their formal evaluations.28   In other words, even though women faculty spend more time with students than male faculty do, the women are rated as less available than men.

Because women’s behavior is often devalued, eve when men and women act the same, a strong woman faculty member may be seen as rigid and controlling while a male faculty member with the same teaching style may be viewed as intellectually rigorous and challenging.29  

The converse of women’s devaluation is that men are more likely to be idealized, receiving more atention, eye contact and direct praise from students. Students may be more forgiving of demanding male teachers (“He has very high standards”) and more critical of the same behavior in female teachers (“She has unrealistic standards; she is such a bitch.”)

Women’s clothing can become a factor in evaluation. Students, both male and female, may be critical of a woman faculty member’s clothing. A man who dresses carelessly may be seen as “eccentric,” a woman who is equally careless in her appearance will be seen as “sloppy.” It is not unusual for women faculty to receive comments about their clothing in student evaluations, such as “Why don’t you wear a dress?” or “I’d like to see more of your legs. You should wear shorter skirts.”30  

Women’s Studies Courses

Women’s studies are viewed politically more than scholarly. Students are suspicious when I continually introduce women’s comments into courses.

In male professors, women’s studies is an acceptable aberration. There is opposition to feminism in women.31  

Women’s studies courses, more than any other courses, are likely to challenge students’ personal assumptions and thus may generate anger on the part of male and female students toward the faculty member (who is causing them discomfort) as well as hostility to the institution and to some or all women students. In one study of male and female students, teachers of women’s studies received more negative assessments, compared to other teachers. Male students gave even more negative assessments than woman students.32   The introduction of women’s issues within other courses may also foster devaluation; these issues may be seen as extraneous, “not real issues,” and thereby detract from the perception of competence. Thus faculty members who teach women’s studies courses (as well as those who teach other subjects or in schools where women are few in number) may be particularly vulnerable to poor teaching evaluations.

Women’s Speech: Why Can’t a Woman Talk Like a Man?

The way women speak may also be devalued.33 The valued way of speaking, especially in academe, is strong, definitive, assertive speech. In contrast, many women have been “taught” to speak in a softer voice with a higher pitch and to speak more hesitantly–“I think... I was wondering.” Often women add what are called “tag” questions–“It’s cold in here, isn’t it?” Their voices may go up at the end of a statement? [sic]34   Women may use excessive qualifiers such as “Well, maybe,” “perhaps,” “there is a possibility that sometimes...” Women are also likely to apologize before they make a statement, such as “I’m probably wrong but...” or “This really doesn’t make much sense but...” Excessive politeness and other forms of deferential speech may also be common for some women.

To the extent that a woman faculty member speaks this way, she contradicts the expectations for faculty to speak in a strong, assertive manner, so that the content of what she says, as well as her general competence, may be devalued. Once again a woman is in a double bind; if she learns to talk like men, and speaks in a more assertive style, she is likely to be viewed as being “too masculine,” “not feminine enough,” perhaps “abrasive” or even “castrating,” an “Iron Maiden” or “Dragon Lady”–all common labels for women who do not conform to the idealized feminine stereotype. The same behaviors seen as forceful in a man may be viewed negatively when used by a woman: her assertive speech is likely to be viewed as aggressive, or hostile and rejected out-of-hand because her way of talking and acting does not conform to the stereotyped expectations of women.

Because “women’s speech” is less definitive and “softer” it may foster a more equitable scholarly climate based more on the cooperative development of ideas and less on individual competition and/or lecturing. In other words, the more hesitant speech may encourage students to elaborate, to question, and to participate, while the more assertive speech may discourage them. Ideally, both men and women should be able to use both kinds of speech, depending on what is appropriate for each situation.


“One of the major concerns is that female professors threaten many male students... because of the anomaly of a woman having public authority. The more male-dominated the discipline, the worse the problem is.”35  

Sometimes male students can behave very differently toward a female teacher:

One male student continually objected to many of the statements made by a woman faculty member in her class. He would call out comments such as “That doesn’t make sense,” “I disagree with that,” and similar statements in response to the professor’s substantive remarks. She recognized that his comments were not related to the substance of her statements when the following occurred: the faculty member, using her own experience as a teaching example, began to state that she had been at a supermarket and the male student immediately interrupted to call out “That’s not true.”36  

Women students, perhaps because they are more comfortable with a woman faculty member, generally participate in class more whn the class is taught by a woman (although even then, women still do not participate as much as men students do).37   Thus, when the faculty member is female and women students speak more often, there may be “less time” for men students to speak. Additionally, because women faculty are often believed to be more responsive to women students than many men faculty, male students sometimes may feel threatened or short-changed, believing that they are getting unequal attention. They may perceive the woman professor as showing favoritism to women students, when in fact she is treating women more fairly than they are usually treated-she is merely giving the same responses to women that men students are used to getting from their male faculty. Fairness to women is such an anomaly that it may seem like bias.

Add to this the fact that women’s classrooms may be different from other classrooms. In some of their other classes students may hear sexual and sexist remarks, see professors not listening or responding to women students’ comments, hear classroom examples which depict women as sexual objects or as victims or in stereotypical roles, or hear continual classroom examples from the masculine world of sports and the military–behaviors that define the classroom as masculine turf. When these behaviors do not occur in a class taught by a woman, men students may consciously or unconsciously recognize that the woman faculty member is somehow different from their othe teachers in ways that go beyond her merely being female. At best, male students, as well as some female students, may feel uncomfortable; at worst, some men may feel threatened and become defensive or hostile.

If the women faculty member goes beyond being neutral and does such things as actively using women in non-stereotyped examples, or using the “he or she” instead of the so-called generic “he,” or referring to the head of the department as “chair” or “chairperson,” or introducing women’s issues into the curriculum some men (and women) may even feel that the teacher is a “radical feminist,” in a perjorative sense, that she is anti-male, and that she has politicized her teaching role. In response, students may indicate their displeasure with overt comments, hissing or booing, negative body language, inattention or yawning.

Some male students act more aggressively with women faculty members than with men. In one study of mixed classes of graduate students, male students were more aggressive when the class was taught by a woman.38   The men not only spoke longer and more often than women students but they also interrupted the women students and the female professor more than they did when the class was taught by a male. The researcher, Virginia Brooks, postulates that the woman professor creates dissonance because she is a female in a position of authority. This threatens the self-esteem of some men who may, in turn, exhibit aggressive behavior.

The authority of women faculty is challenged more often and more strongly than that of men. Women may be asked about their credentials, as in “Are you really tenured?” “Do you really have a doctoral degree?” “I can’t believe you’re a professor,–questions that are rarely asked of male faculty members. More importantly, students are often ore skeptical about the remarks made by women faculty than those made by men. Some students, particularly males, exaggerate typical competitive discourse, almost as if they are “testing” the faculty member. Examples of such behavior include:

   immediately challenging faculty members, starting early in the lecture and continuing throughout;
   aggressively noting minor flaws and stating the exception to each generalization;
   challenging the source of knowledge, as in “How do you know this?” or “Where is the research that proves this?”;
   continually interrupting the female faculty member;
   arguing continuously about exceptions to generalizations, flaws in the faculty member’s statements, quizzes and the text, and;
   negative body language such as turning away, inattention, eye-rolling, smirking, and snide comments.

While many students challenge male professors’ comments as well (good teaching often encourages this), these same behaviors may regularly and systematically be used, consciously or unconsciously, to intimidate a woman faculty member rather than to elucidate and expand a discussion. Such behaviors, even if only from one person, can be disruptive and affect the class as a whole, and are especially likely to occur in women’s studies courses or when women’s issues are introduced as part of the curriculum. Female teaching assistants, especially those with sole responsibility for teaching a class section, are even more vulnerable to male intimidation than women faculty members, perhaps because the former are seen as having even less power than women faculty.

Intimidation may also be worse in large classes where there is less personal contact. Women and men faculty members also report that they experience more more grade appeals from men than from women, and that the appeals often have a dickering or harassing quality to them. Because of gender role expectations, however, male students are typically more insistent with women faculty members than with men.39  

Some males are directly hostile to women faculty. They may call her “bitch” or other derogatory terms when they disagree with her. Occasionally, women faculty members have reported harassment from groups of male students:

To them [hostile male students], it becomes a game of “us guys versus the teacher.” They get a lot of pleasure from verbal and nonverbal intimidation.40  

No [feminist] teacher, regardless of her skill and experience, can maintain order when her classroom is peopled by a dozen man... from the same athletic team or fraternity house.41  

Men from the same dormitory or men simply acting as a temporary group in class may also harass women faculty members. Group harassment may be explained, in part, by the following:

   people often act worse when part of a group–a type of gang mentality;
   some men use hostility to women (whether teasing or more aggressively) as a way to “bond” with other men. They may be demonstrating their “power” and their “masculinity” to the other members of the group by showing hostility to women.

The hostility of male students to women faculty does not seem to be limited to particular types of schools and occurs in other cultures and in a variety of disciplines.42   Male students may find their sexist attitudes reinforced by male faculty, such as the professor saying in class that his field “was better when there were only men,” or that it looks like the women are “taking over,” or another professor referring to women as “bitches.”

Male intimidation becomes even more threatening to the extent that male students who report problems with a woman faculty member may easily get support from male department heads. The student’s version is accepted even before the department head has heard the woman’s side of the story.

Women’s Sexuality

Another problem, especially for some male students, is a confusion between social and professional roles. They may be used to responding to women primarily or only in social situations, and for some, that means responding to women in a sexual manner. They have few female faculty as undergraduate teachers and may know few, if any, professional women. Uncomfortable with the strange apparition of a female faculty member, they may fall back on the ways they behave in social situations with women, ways which often use sexuality as a means to demonstrate power. They may call a woman faculty member “honey,” or “dearie,” or even by her first name without asking her permission to do so. She may be viewed primarily in terms of sexuality, so that male students may flirt with her and engage in sexual teasing.43   They may use sexual innuendoes or inappropriate terms of endearment, especially in an attempt to avoid issues such as being late with a paper: “Oh honey, aren’t you going to let me hand this in next week?” or “You’re such a sweet pretty thing, I hate to see you frown over this.” there may be inappropriate comments about the faculty member’s clothing and appearance; she is more likely to be appraised for her appearance than her ability. Other male students may touch her or invade her personal space by standing closer to her than they would to male faculty.

Most sexual harassment involves peers or persons in authority, such as male faculty harassing female students. Those studies that have examined the problem of faculty harassment have typically focused on harassment by colleagues and administrators and not explores the problem of student harassment of faculty. Benson has coined the term “contrapower harassment” to describe those instances where the offender has less power than the victim, as in the case of students’ harassment of faculty.44 The few studies that have focused on this issue suggest that contrapower harassment is more frequent than is generally recognized. In a 1989 study, 48 percent of female faculty responding to a mailed survey reported that they have experienced at least one form of sexual harassment from a student. The behaviors included sexist comments, undue attention, verbal or written sexual comments, physical advances, explicit sexual propositions and obscene phone calls believed to be from students.45 Among those who reported experiencing these behaviors, 59.1 percent reported two or more behaviors. Seventeen percent reported obscene phone calls which they believed originated from students. Although the women reported more harassment in general from colleagues and superiors than students, they reported more written sexual comments from students than from others. In one study examining harassment of male and female faculty by students, men reported somewhat more harassment than women did, although the men were less likely to label these behaviors as harassment.46 The researcher, McKinney, suggests that women may have less tolerance of sexual harassment and view it as a more serious problem, and notes that other researchers have found that man are more likely than women to interpret a variety of interactions with the other gender as sexual.  47

The Chilling of the General Climate

In addition to in-class behaviors, overt sexist behaviors outside the classroom (including anonymous behaviors presumably committed by male students) and aimed at women in general or aimed specifically at individual women faculty members, chill the climate even further such as:

   desecration of posters and other materials relating to women. In the spring of 1988, the chair of the Women’s Law Association at Harvard University put up a poster publicizing a weekly luncheon series in which the topic was “The ‘F’ Word: To Be or Not To Be a Feminist.” The words “a feminist” were crossed out, and the new title was “To Be or Not To Be Fucked.”
   anti-lesbian activity. In a yearbook in a university library, someone scrawled across the picture of a camus women’s organization, the words “Lesbian Formation.”
   pornographic graffiti about women faculty and students or about women in general. Often the graffiti remains in place for years, offending generations of students as well as faculty.
   sending or leaving pornographic materials in women faculty members’ offices or mailboxes.
   sexist articles or editorials in the student newspaper. For example, a student editorial in the Flat Hat on November 20, 1987 at the College of William and Mary rocommended replacing women with inflatable dolls, because “... you will never have to wear a condom... worry about unwanted pregnancies... remember her name afterwards... [be concerned with] unfaithfulness... [her spending] three hours putting on make-up... complaining incessantly.” Typically there is no condemnation by university officials.
   toleration and viewing overt hostility to women as youthful highjinks or “boys will be boys” by administrators and others, as when men shout obscenities at women (including women faculty) passing a fraternity house, or when men harass women and men marchers at a Take-Back-The-Night anti-rape rally.

These behaviors are often brushed off as individual instances of benign behavior when women students or faculty complain. Colleagues and administrators may trivialize their feelings: “You shouldn’t take this so seriously.” Often institutional leaders may not acknowledge negative or hostile behavior towards women as part of a larger pattern and simply ignore similar destructive, sexist behaviors toward women. By not challenging or condemning sexual slurs and viewing them as youthful highjinks or “boys will be boys,” the institution creates the impression that it condones or even approves of these behaviors even though they may violate the institution’s policies and are often illegal.

Do these behaviors happen all the time to every woman? Of course not. But they happen often enough to communicate to women faculty as well as women students and men) that woman are not welcome in academe or elsewhere. They are outsiders. Their very presence is a threat to some men. Add to this a curriculum that may ignore women or treat them badly, the small number of women on most faculties, the smaller number at the rank of full professor, the even smaller number of women administrators at the higher reaches, and the subtle inequities of daily life with some colleagues, and the climate for women faculty members is indeed chilly.

Men and woman, teaching in the same classroom, teaching the same subject to the same students have very different experiences. Often the classroom is a friendlier, more encouraging and reinforcing environment for male faculty. It is far chillier and more stressful for women faculty. It gnaws at women’s self-esteem. It often results in lower evaluations which affect tenure, promotions and salary increases.

*   *   *   *   *   *

Certainly more research is needed. But there is much that we can do now. If we cannot solve these problems in academe then it is doubtful that we can solve them anywhere else. A wide array of activities that can be helpful is listed below.48   While some of the recommendations are designed for specific members of the academic community, many will be useful to all members of the academic community.


The differential experience of women faculty in the classroom is not just a private problem for the individuals affected and to be solved by individual faculty members. Women faculty members, alone, can at best respond to some of these problems but they cannot solve them. These problems are institutional and public. Extensive policy and institutional strategies are even more critical than the specific strategies for individual women faculty members which help them deal with student behaviors that create a chilly climate.

Institutions and individuals may find many of the following recommendations helpful in developing strategies. Not all recommendations are appropriate for all institutions; some will need to be adapted for particular institutions and situations.

General Recommendations

   Incorporate climate issues into the mission of the institution.
   Recognize that change is the responsibility of everyone on campus, not only women, faculty, or administration. Recognize that change is an ongoing process and that dealing with the issue once (or several times) will not “solve” the problem.
   Work actively to create an atmosphere where women’s issues are viewed as institutional issues, and where issues of differential treatment in the classroom and elsewhere can be discussed.
   Educate all members of the academic community–from the trustees to students and staff-about differential treatment, the forms it takes, and the institution’s commitment to make the climate more equitable.
   Adopt a non-sexist language policy for institutional communications. A number of institutions, such as the University of New Hampshire, have done so.
   Ensure that efforts to improve the classroom climate recognize the experiences and concerns of women of color.
   Ensure that efforts to improve the classroom climate cover teaching faculty, teaching assistants, and students.
   Use existing offices and structures to evaluate the classroom climate for women faculty members, such as faculty development programs, committees or commissions on the status of women, women’s studies coordinating committees, and graduate student organizations.
   Monitor these offices to ensure that they are knowledgeable and incorporate climate issues into their ongoing activities.

Recommendations for Administrators

  Acknowledge and Publicize the Issue in Order to Make Classroom Behavior a Topic for Campus-wide Discussion

   Publish materials in institutional media, such as faculty newsletters and student newspapers.
   Give interviews in the student newspaper about the issue.
   Circulate materials, such as this paper, to faculty members.
   Develop materials to be disseminated to students and/or for faculty to hand out and discuss, if desired, as to what constitutes appropriate behavior toward other students and faculty members.
   Gather data by surveying faculty and students about these issues and make the results a matter of public discussion. One way to publicize the issue is to list quotations from women faculty (without their names) describing their experiences. The cumulative effect of reading several pages describing these experiences is powerful.

  Develop Appropriate Policies

   Appoint a university-wide committee to explore the problem and develop recommendations. Include male and female students as well as faculty members. Include sympathetic men. Deans and department chairs can also appoint similar committees where appropriate. Publicize the report when it is finished and move to implement its recommendations. Develop a time-table for the report and for implementation of its recommendations.
   Develop or evaluate existing policies covering student behaviors toward faculty members. Publicize the policies and periodically disseminate them.
   Develop standards for behavior toward faculty members, male and female, in the student code of behavior. Include examples of behaviors that will not be tolerated. Publicize the code and disseminate it regularly, such as at the start of each academic year.
   Develop or evaluate existing policies to allow faculty members and/or department chairs to bring charges against students who are disruptive in class. Ensure that ther complaint procedure can accommodate non-verbal as well as overt behavior. The policy should encourage informal resolution (such as mediation or use of an ombudsperson) but also include formal procedures including sanctions.
   Evaluate policies and their implementation concerning complaints by students against faculty. Encourage informal resolution as in the previous recommendation.
   When women faculty members are charged with bias against men, ensure that the procedure includes determining whether the faculty member was truly favoring men or just giving all her students, including women, an equal chance.49  
   When male students complain against a professor, hear both sides of the incident before making any judgements.
   Revise sexual harassment policies to include student harassment of faculty members as well as student-to-student harassment in the classroom and elsewhere.

  Respond Swiftly and Publicly When Sexist Incidents Occur

   Where appropriate, invoke student disciplinary procedures, and do so publicly.
   Recognize that the absence of an official response is often viewed as tacit or official approval of the behavior.
   If student disciplinary procedures cannot be invoked, use shame as a public means of dealing with the issue. Official condemnation, publicized in the student newspaper, can be helpful in supporting those who are concerned about the behavior and in generating campus discussion about the issues.
   Treat the issue seriously. The faculty at Bates College in Maine canceled all classes and activities so that students could attend a series of workshops and seminars on harassment after two male students attached a computerized image of a penis to the office door of a female faculty member.
   Provide specific training to members of fraternities and athletic teams since these groups may be more prone to harassing women teachers than others.
   Recognize that freedom of speech does not justify verbal harassment of women faculty members. Student disagreement with faculty members is not the issue; how that disagreement is expressed is the concern.

  Support Institutional Research on Climate Issues

Ensure a general climate throughout the institution that indicates the institution’s concern about women’s issues and respect for those issues.

   When prospective faculty and administrators are being hired, examine their comittment to equity for women and students of color.50  
   When faculty and administrators are being evaluated for promotion and tenure, include fair treatment of women and people of color as one of the criteria.

  Provide Training for Faculty and Administrators

   Conduct workshops for promotion and tenure committees to ensure that members are aware of devaluation and its impact on student evaluations.
   If student evaluations are formally conducted by the institution, try to counteract devaluation by listing specific behaviors such as:
   Does this teacher encourage students to speak?51  
   Does this teacher help students think about issues or does the teacher present all the information as a given?

Asking only for generic ratings such as “Is this a good teacher?” may obscure specific traits that are associated with good teaching.

   Conduct workshops focused on this issue at retreats, general faculty meetings, college-wide programs, lecture series and departmental meetings. Women especially need to know that these things are more likely to happen to them than to men st that they understand these factors when students behave badly toward them. Such workshops can also provide an opportunity for women to talk to each other about these issues and to develop classroom strategies.
   Include information about and strategies for dealing with student behaviors in faculty development programs and in teaching programs for graduate and teaching assistants.
   Materials for faculty training might be developed by a faculty development committee or by a committee on the status of women or by the two committees together. The women’s studies coordinating committee might also be involved.

  Prohibit or Discourage Block Enrollment to the Extent Possible

(Block enrollment allows students from the same organization to register as a group for the same class.)

Recommendations for Women Faculty Members        

Not all of the following recommendations will be appropriate for all situations. A broad range of strategies is included so that individuals can select those strategies with which they are most comfortable.

   Don’t be modest about your accomplishments. Where appropriate, let the class know of your achievements. It is often important to do this at the first session in order to combat devaluation. One science professor, in order to enhance the perception of her credibility, wore a white laboratory coat and used a long pointer at the blackboard.
   Develop a hand-out or discuss during the first class session, what constitutes appropriate behavior toward other students and toward the faculty member. The development of such materials is best done by the institution, the school or the department, but can also be done by individual teachers. This may be particularly important in women’s studies courses.
   Decide how you want students to address you. In some schools faculty are typically called by their first name; in others it is unusual unless the professor gives a student(s) permission to do so. Be aware that allowing students to call you by your first name (especially if this is not usual in your school or if you are young) may diminish your authority and perceptions of competence. On the other hand, making an issue of it may also make you look “bossy” or unfriendly (another double bind). Whatever you decide, you need to be in charge so that you can tell students at the first session how you want to be addressed.
   Be aware of your style of speaking and how it might affect others. Choose the style most useful for different parts of your teaching so that you can be appropriately assertive and/or collaborative.
   Beware of self-effacing comments, especially at the beginning of a semester. Because women often have been socialized to be modest, to share the credit for success and to express vulnerability as a way of enhancing relationships, they may fall into the habit of making self-effacing remarks such as “I’m terrible at statistics,” or “I had a rough time in graduate school with this too.”  For man, such remarks are often seem as becomingly modest; for women, such remarks are often taken at face value as reflecting a lack of competence, rather than as a way of showing understanding of someone else’s difficulties.
   When problems occur, talk to other women faculty members for clarification of what is happening and exchange ideas about strategies.
   When instances of disrespectful, disruptive or sexist behavior occur, recognize that you need to deal with them as soon as possible, if not immediately. Postponing your response may convey weakness and thus reinforce the perception of yourself as a suitable target. If you are reluctant to reprimand a student publicly, tell the student in front of the class that you would like to see him (or her) after class. This gives the class the message that you are not willing to tolerate the behavior.
   Recognize that not responding to such behavior is often viewed as condoning the behavior and/or as being powerless to deal with it, perceptions that often increase the likelihood that such behavior will recur and escalate. Sometimes, particularly at the beginning of the semester, students will test the professor’s limits, in essence asking for the professor to set the limits.
   Do not be afraid to tell students when their behavior is unacceptable. In some instances, that will end the overt hostility, although the student may still exhibit negative body language. Remember that not all students are going to like you or accept your teaching, but you have a right to expect all students to treat you with respect.
   If one or more students frowns when you are speaking, confront it openly. You can say something like “I notice you are frowning. Can you tell me why?” or “I notice some skepticism. Let’s talk about what you’re thinking.”
   When students interrupt, keep talking and continue making your point. Challenge students who interrupt each other or yourself.
   Humor is a good way to handle some issues, partly because it indicates that you are not taking what is happening as a personal affront, i.e., humor can be a way of showing strength because it shows that you are in charge.52   For example, if students call you Ms. or Mrs. or Miss, you can jokingly say, “Oops, I’ve lost my professorship (or doctorate) again.” Although this works well with people who are comfortable using humor, it carries the risk of backfiring by putting the faculty member into a “joking match” with students.
   Responding lightly to hostility is sometimes effective, especially when good teaching techniques (such as “Tell me why you believe that,” or a sympathetic “It’s hard for many people to talk about these issues”) may fail. For example, if you are unfairly attacked, as when a student accuses you of politicizing the class by discussing women’s issues or whatever, you might say, with a smile, “Of course, and it will probably get worse.” Or you might say, “Ah! You found me out at last! Yes, I am a feminist.” These responses are particularly useful when you sense that the behavior is not amenable to logic and that it is emotionally based. Similarly, when a student repeats disruptive or sexist behavior, such as continually interrupting, you can say, again, lightly and with a smile, “Ah! I just knew you were going to interrupt at this point! I predicted it to myself about five minutes ago.” This strategy, along with humor, may work because it is unexpected and breaks the cycle of behavior anticipated by the perpetrator; i.e., the student’s behavior is not achieving the desired effect. However, like other strategies involving humor, it can backfire because the student may feel trivialized.
   Remember that some men (and some women) enjoy controversy as a way of relating to others intellectually. Their behavior may not be personally related to you.
   Keep in mind that some aggressive, intimidating behavior is emotionally based. You might respond to such behavior with: “I’m not here to convince you but to get you to think,” or “You really don’t like what I’m saying and that’s okay.”
   One way to deflect aggressive questioning is to deflectr the question to the class, rather than trying to restate the position. If a student says something like “That’s not true,” or “I don’t believe that at all,” you can say, “Well, what do the rest of you think?”
   Should a student be increasingly aggressive and disruptive during a class, you might consider the following:
   Tell the disruptive student(s) to make an appointment to see you.
   Give the student a public warning that his or her behavior is disrupting the class and if it continues, you will ask the student to leave the room. Be sure that you know that your school’s policy allows you to do this.
   Ask the student if he or she would like to drop the course, without penalty (if your institution allows it), pointing out that the student seems unhappy with the course. This is probably best done privately.
   Warn the student that he or she may be dropped from the course (assuming your institution’s policy allows this to happen). This should usually be done in a private conversation.
   Know your institution’s procedure, if it has one, for dropping a student from a course. Use it if necessary to deal with an unruly or disruptive student after you have tried other approaches unsuccessfully. In dealing with such students you might want to write memos of your conversations with the student and descriptions of the disruptive behavior.
   Respond when students tell sexual jokes, make sexual innuendos or sexist remarks. These behaviors are often made with the aim of intimidating female faculty as well as female students, and impressing other males. Not responding may discourage female students from speaking at all, and encourage other male students to attempt other intimidating behaviors. You can indicate your disapproval in several ways:
   You can decide not to respond overtly and just stare and frown quietly at the person.
   You can indicate your displeasure openly, stating that you found the comment or joke offensive, or you can say in a shocked tone, “I beg your pardon!”
   You can smile and lightly say, “I don’t believe you said what you just did,” and then go on without further comment.
   You can pretend to take the comments literally or you can pretend not to understand and ask the person to repeat the comment once or twice. Then you can ask for an explanation. Asking for an explanation of a sexist remark sometimes embarrasses the offending person. It may also work because the person does not get the expected response from you.
   Don’t feel you have to handle every instance of offensive behavior verbally. It is all right to ignore this some of the time (although ignoring it may be misinterpreted as an inability to deal with the behavior). If you do not want to deal with a student verbally, you can indicate your disapproval by frowning, eye-rolling, or sighing. Recognize, however, that at some point you will probably have to deal with the student more directly.
   If a student continually criticizes you inappropriately, such as “You’re politicizing the class,” recognize that no amount of logic in the classroom is likely to change that person’s mind. It is often more effective to acknowledge the person’s feelings, such as “It’s really hard for men when that happens.” Or one might handle it in an offhanded manner, suggested earlier, as in “Ah! It will probably get worse.”

Recommendations for Men Faculty Members

   Be a role model for male students in terms of how to treat women equitably.
   Make a concerted effort to be equitable in your own classes, and to do more than merely being neutral.
   Talk about equity and the need for men and women to work together professionally.
   Openly express disapproval of sexist innuendos, sexist jokes and humor on the part of students in the classroom and elsewhere.
   Publicly condemn sexist activities occurring on campus, by communicating your disapproval to others or writing letters to the student newspaper.
   Be aware of how women students are often inadvertently treated differently in classrooms. Work to treat women students fairly (such as calling on women, calling them by name, and responding to women’s comments as much mens’). Use women as examples in non-stereotyped roles, such as scientists or physicians.
   Avoid the generic “he” or other words that do not connote equity. Using such words as “he or she” or “person” instead of “man” strongly communicates to students that you are concerned with equity issues.
   Do not assume that because you treat women fairly others will do the same.

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The problems that women face in the classroom have their origins not only in individual lives but in thousands of years of history. If we are to work towards a world in which women and men can be co-workers and friends, where men and women are treated fairly and have options based on their talents and interests rather than their gender, men and women in colleges and universities will need to work together to make climate issues a major concern, and to develop policies and programs to warm up the chilly climate. If we allow sexist behavior on the part of faculty and students by ignoring it, by subtly or overtly condoning it, we can expect this behavior to continue. Institutions must make sexism a matter of public concern so that students and faculty members can begin to examine and change their own behaviors.

1 President’s Commission on the Status of Women, Committee on Faculty Retention. (1981). Closing the Revolving Door: the Retention of Women in Higher Education. Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire. return to text
2 Hall, R.M. & Sandler, B.R. (1982). The Classroom Climate: a Chilly One for Women? Washington, DC: Project on the Status and Education of Women, Association of American Colleges and Universities. return to text
3 Krupnick, C.G. [in Press]. Meadows College Prepares for Men, in M.J. Bane and K. Winston (Ed.), Casebook on Gender and Public Policy. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. return to text
4 Sandler, B.R., & Hall, R.M. (1986). The Campus Climate Revisited: Chilly for Women Faculty, Administrators, and Graduate Students. Washington, DC: Project on the Status and Education of Women, Association of American Colleges and Universities. return to text
5 Hall, R.M. & Sandler, B.R. (1984). Out of the Classroom: a Chilly Campus Climate for Women? Washington, DC: Project on the Status and Education of Women, Association of American Colleges and Universities. return to text
6 Moses, Y.T. (1989). Black Women in Academe: Issues and Strategies, and Nieves-Squires, S. (1991), Hispanic Women: Making Their Presence on Campus Less Tenuous. Washington, DC: Project on the Status and Education of Women, Association of American Colleges and Universities. return to text
7 Hughes, J.O. & Sandler, B.R. (1988). Peer Harassment: Hassles for Women on Campus. [Originally published by the Project on the Status and Education of Women, Association of American Colleges and Universities.] Washington, DC: Center for Women Policy Studies. return to text
8 Sandler, B.R., & Hall, R.M. return to text
9 Great Lakes Colleges Association (1984). A Survey of Female Faculty Experience. Ann Arbor, MI: Great Lakes Colleges Association. return to text
10 Ibid. return to text
11 See, for example, Ryan, M. (1989). Classrooms and Contexts: the Challenge of Feminist Pedagogy. Feminist Teacher, 4(2/3), 39-42. return to text
12 Great Lakes Colleges Association. return to text
13 Bennett, S.K. (1982). Student Perceptions and Expectations for Male and Female Instructors: Evidence Relating to the Question of Gender Bias in Teaching Evaluation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74(2), 170-179. return to text
14 Zikmund, B.B. (1988, September 1). The Well-being of Academic Women Is Still Being Sabotaged – by Colleagues, by Students, and by Themselves. Chronicle of Higher Education, A44. return to text
15 This Year’s Freshmen. (1993, January 13). Chronicle of Higher Education, A31. return to text
16 Backhouse, C., Harris, R., Michell, G., & Wylie, A. (1989). The Chilly Climate for Faculty Women at UWO: Postscript to the Backhouse Report. London, Ontario, Canada: University of Western Ontario. See also Kantor, R.M. (1977). Men and Women of the Corporation. New York: Basic Books. return to text
17 Ibid. return to text
18 Ibid. return to text
19 See, for example, Paludi, M.A. & Strayer, L.A. (1985). What’s in an Author’s Name? Differential Evaluations of Performance as a Function of Author’s Name. Sex Roles, 12, (3/4), 353 and Geis, F., Carter, M., and Butler, D. (1986). Seeing and Evaluating People. Newark, DE: Office of Women’s Affairs, University of Delaware. return to text
20 Moses, Y.T. (1989), and Nieves-Squires, S. (1991). return to text
21 Bennett, S.K. (1982). Student Perceptions and Expectations for Male and Female Instructors: Evidence Relating to the Question of Gender Bias in Teaching Evaluation. Journal of Educational Psychology, 74(2), 170-179. return to text
22 Ibid. return to text
23 Example given by participant at conference. (1989, November 4). Forum for Women in Legal Education, New York State Bar Association, at Fordham University Law School, New York, New York. return to text
24 Butler, D., and Geis, F. (1990). Nonverbal Affect Responses for Male and Female Leaders: Implications for Leadership Evaluations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 48-59. return to text
25 Basow, S.A., & Silberg, N.T. (1987). Student Evaluations of College Professors: Are Male and Female Professors Rated Differently? Journal of Educational Psychology, 79(3), 308-314. return to text
26 Kierstad, D., D’Agostin, P. & Dill, H. (1988). Sex role stereotyping of college professors: bias in students’ rating of instructors. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 342-344; and Hall, J.A., Braunwald, K.G., & Mroz, B.J. (1982). Gender, Affect and Influence in a Teaching Situation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43,(2) 270-280. return to text
27 Hall, Braunwald, and Mroz. return to text
28 Bennett, S.K. return to text
29 Basow, S.A., & Silberg, N.T. return to text
30 Personal communications from faculty members. return to text
31 Comments from women faculty from an unpublished survey of a small midwestern liberal arts college. return to text
32 Hartung, B. (1990). Selective Rejection: How Students Perceive Women’s Studies Teachers. National Women’s Studies Association Journal, 2, 373-379. return to text
33 Sandler, B.R., & Hall, R.M. return to text
34 People with low status often do the same; perhaps what we are really talking about is not sex differences per se but differences between people with and without power. Some linguists have also pointed out that there are increasing numbers of people in the United States who use a rising inflection at the end of a sentence. return to text
35 Presidents Commission on the Status of Women, Committee on Faculty Retention. P. 15. return to text
36 Personal conversation with a woman faculty member. return to text
37 Krupnick, C.G. (1985). Women and Men in the Classroom: Inequality and its Remedies. Teaching and Learning, 1, 19-25. return to text
38 Brooks, V. (1982). Sex Differences in Student Dominance Behavior in Female and Male Professors’ Classrooms. Sex Roles, 8(7) 683-690. return to text
39 Informal communications. return to text
40 Bedard, M. & Hartung, B. (1991). Blackboard Jungle Revisited. Higher Education Journal, Vii(1), 12. return to text
41 Bedard, M. & Hartung, B., p. 15. return to text
42 See, for example, Ghadially, R., (1988). Teaching the Psychology of Sex Roles to Engineers in India.  Women’s Studies Quarterly, 3/4, 86-90; Mahoney, P. (1986). Boys Will Be Boys: Teaching Women’s Studies in Mixed Sex Groups. Women’s Studies International Forum, 3, 331-334; and Testimony Before the American Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession (February 1988). American Bar Association. return to text
43 Sandler, B.R., & Hall, R.M. return to text
44 Benson, K. (1984). Comment on Crocker’s “An analysis of university definitions of sexual harassment.” Signs, 9, 516-519. return to text
45 Grauerholz, E. (1989). Sexual Harassment of Women Professors by Students: Exploring the Dynamics of Power, Authority, and Gender in a University Setting. Sex Roles, 21(11/12) 789-801. return to text
46 McKinney, K. (1990). Sexual Harassment of University Faculty by Colleagues and Students. Sex Roles, 23(7/8). return to text
47 See, for example, Shotland, L., & Craig, J.M. (1988). Can Men and Women Differentiate Between Friendly and Sexually Interested Behavior? Social Psychology Quarterly, 51, 66-73. return to text
48 See notes 2, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Each of these reports has about a hundred recommendations dealing with campus climate issues. return to text
49 Schafran, L.H. (1990, May 28). When Bias Is the Norm. The National Law Journal. return to text
50 Sandler, B.R., Hughes, J.O., & DeMouy, M. (1988). It’s All in What You Ask: Questions for Search Committees to Use. [Originally published by the Project on the Status and Education of Women, Association of American Colleges and Universities.] Washington, DC: Center for Women Policy Studies. return to text
51 Krupnick, C.G. return to text
52 See Barreca, R. (1991). They Used to Call Me Snow White... but I Drifted. New York: Viking. return to text


Catherine G. Krupnick of the Harvard Graduate School of Education immensely sharpened my thinking and the final version of this paper by her substantive comments and discussions with me.
* Sandler is a Senior Scholar at the Washington-based Women's Research and Education Institute. Portions of this report appeared in a speech given at "Voices for Women, Conference on Women in Legal Education at New York University, April 20, 1990, and in Communication Education, Volume 40, January 1991.

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Bernice R. Sandler, Senior Scholar in Residence at the Women's Research and Education Institute, consults extensively with institutions and others about women's equity, including sexual harassment, discrimination, and the chilly climate. She has given over 2500 presentations, written many articles, and serves as an expert witness in discrimination cases. Sandler can be contacted at:

Bernice R. Sandler
Senior Scholar, Women's Research and Education Institute
1350 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 850, Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202 833 3331   Fax: 202 785 5605
Website: bernicesandler.com