American university students give teachers with Asian last names lower ratings

Listening closely.
Listening closely.
Image: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
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University students in the United States are harsher on teachers with Asian-sounding surnames, according to a new study published in the journal, Language in Society. The study, titled “She does have an accent but…,” compares ratings for more than 1,000 math instructors with either Chinese or Korean last names with those who have Western last names. The ratings were taken from the site

Those with Western last names scored 0.60 to 0.80 points higher on “clarity” as well as 0.16 to 0.40 points higher on “helpfulness,” the two categories that determine an instructor’s overall rating on the site.

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Although universities have grown stricter about language skills among foreign instructors and teaching assistants, it may be the case that students still place a lot of focus—perhaps too much—on instructors’ language ability, according to the author of the study, Nicholas Close Subtirelu. “Given all of that, I’m really skeptical of the idea that they lack English proficiency, that they are unintelligible,” he told Inside Higher Ed.

Subtirelu said the praise of teachers with Asian last names frequently featured the phrase “has an accent but…” and students often remarked when an Asian professor spoke ”perfect English.” According to Subtirelu, “this is a big problem for an institution that wants to be an international university.”