Tag Archives: classroom dynamics

Back to Socratic Cold Calling? Yale Law Women monitor & Report on Gendered Participation at YLS

This study was a follow up of one conducted in 2002.
The history and key findings are set out here.

Classroom Dynamics

  • Men continue to participate more in class than women—and the disparity between male and female participation rates have barely improved over the past ten years.
  • Faculty and students observe that women seem more risk-adverse in their participation and are more likely to undermine or discount their own comments in class.

Beyond the Classroom

  • Men are more active in engaging faculty outside of class and are more comfortable doing so.
  • Men are more likely to write with faculty, and earlier—and they learn about faculty opportunities through more informal channels than women.
  • Faculty observed greater hesitance among women in asking professors to advocate for them.
Hm, sound familiar to anyone?
For large classes, the study findings are clear – cold-calling produces the best gender balance.  I agree, although I have a variety of techniques I use to get my cold calling to a place where I can bear to do it.
Re use of M/F:
We added a third “unclear” gender category to recognize genderqueer and gender non-conforming students who do not either identify or express themselves as men or women. To be sure, this was necessarily
an imperfect approach, as it wholly refl ected the perspective of the classroom monitor (and whether it was “unclear” to them how a student gender-identified).   (19)
The study was done by and at Yale, so the world cares.  Super fun to go to the blogs that are covering it and read the comments! Perhaps not.
The study raises really interesting questions about the source of the problem and the appropriate solutions.  It provides some compelling empirical data that I feel sure would be echoed at other law schools.  I wonder if the number of women on the Faculty makes a difference, though.
For 2011-2012, 22 out of 104 Yale Law School professors were women (21.2%). When visiting, clinical, adjunct, and emeritus professors are excluded, there are 17 women professors out of 75. Of the 17 Visiting Professors, 4 were women (23.5%). Only one of 12 clinical professors is a woman (8.3%). (2)
In light of the recent discussion about grading practices and stress levels (prompted by U of T’s proposed grading scheme adjustment), which inevitably led to mention of Yale’s Honours/Pass/Fail system, I think the Report also highlights the way that competition, and stress, find their way into the law school anyway.
Without formal grades, large classes, or institutionalized benchmarks, faculty-student relationships play a crucial role in a student’s education and future opportunities. Furthermore, many students come to YLS with an interest in legal academia and/or judicial clerkships. Success in these areas requires faculty advocacy on the student’s behalf. (34)
The graph below indicates women are less comfortable approaching their professors in a variety of settings:

Here’s one other result that I find interesting:
Among professors interviewed, women faculty wrote signifi cantly more letters of recommendation. The 14 women interviewed reported writing 99 letters, an average of 7.1 letters per person, while the 40 men interviewed reported writing 158 letters, an average of 4.0 letters per person. (13)
The study mirrors the kinds of things that organizations like Catalyst are suggesting – that is, that environments may promote gendered pathways to success, that finding sponsors may be more difficult for women for a variety of reasons including the lack of women in the workplace, but also that women may need to recognize the ways that they are undercutting their own success by, well, not speaking up.
Of course, there are other questions we could ask, especially about classroom participation. What does it really serve, pedagogically? What are the students who are speaking gaining? What is the rest of the class gaining?  I wonder if we could design a study which would look at the reach of participation.  Is it that there are very frequent participators who are men?  In my classes, it seems that although the participation is overwhelmingly male, there are a substantial number of men who never participate.
Next steps?
  • Raise this study with your colleagues, friends and Profs.  Encourage them to read it, or provide them with the recommendations.
  • Replicate the Yale study?

Incidentally, a York colleague who went to Osgoode a number of years ago, Anne Bunting, mentioned to me that a study like this was done at Osgoode many years ago.  Anyone have a copy? Let me know.


H/T Kim Brooks.