Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Professors' Moral Attitudes about Responding to Student Emails Are Almost Completely Unrelated to Their Actual Responsiveness to Student Emails

... or so say Josh Rust and I in an article were are busily writing up.  (We reported some of the data in an earlier blog post here.)

Below is my favorite figure from the current draft.  On the x-axis is professors' expressed normative view about the morality or immorality of "not consistently responding to student emails", in answer to a survey question, with answers ranging from 1 ("very morally bad") through 5 ("morally neutral") to 9 ("very morally good").  (In fact, only 1% of respondents answered on the morally good side of the scale, showing that we aren't entirely bonkers.)  On the y-axis is responsiveness to three emails Josh and I sent to those same survey respondents -- emails designed to look as through they were from undergraduates, asking questions about such things as office hours and future courses.

(I can't seem to get my graphs to display quite right in Blogger.  If the graph is cut off, please click to view the whole thing.  The triplets of bars represent ethicists, non-ethicist philosophers, and professors in departments other than philosophy, respectively.)

12 comments:

Lewis Powell said...

Did the e-mails you crafted purport to be from current students of those professors, or just as students from their university?

Lewis Powell said...

Oh, I just followed the link to the older post and saw that my question was answered there. Sorry about that.

Zoe said...

Do you have a hypothesis about what is actually motivating them to respond to emails? Maybe fear of being exposed in class - "You never replied..."

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Bob said...

Wow! So there is a gap between what people say and what they do! Who knew??

R said...

If you don't mind, I'd like to reprise a concern raised by others when you first posted on this. A natural interpretation of the target behavior "not consistently responding to student emails" is "not consistently responding to student emails from students with whom one has an established pedagogical relationship". We have no way of knowing what percentage of your respondents interpreted the target in that way, and therefore no reason to be confident that your probe emails (from obscure, indeed fictitious, individuals with whom the potential respondent has no pedagogical relationship) actually count as relevant to the surveyed moral attitude.

When this concern was raised before, you seemed to respond by making an argument that professors do indeed have a moral obligation to respond to queries from those outside an established pedagogical relationship. That might be a good argument, but it does not show that the professors who responded to your survey accept this argument, and therefore we still have no reason to infer that their behavior and moral attitudes are inconsistent.

I think this is interesting research, and I thank you for doing it. But I remain skeptical about the interpretation you've given to your data.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Zoe, I don't really know, but I hope it would arise in large part from motives of caring, duty, and the like.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

R: That's a legitimate concern. A few responses, none sufficient by itself but perhaps jointly helpful. 1. We didn't say "student with whom you have a pedagogical relationship". We think "student at your university" is the more natural interpretation. 2. Most professors don't know the names of all the students in their classes. 3. If a student is registered for an upcoming class and emails a question about that class, that would seem to be a student with whom one has a pedagogical relationship in the relevant sense. 4. It is natural to expect that responses to the two interpretations of the question would be fairly well correlated.

Anonymous said...

should be reasonably straightforward to do a simple survey to tidy up the 4th point (which I am pretty sure would come up with a correlation)... then again what people say and do might be at variance there also !

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Yes, that could be tidied up. Of course, I do fear trying the patience of the limited pool of potential respondents....

Brad Cokelet said...

Dear Student,

I am writing to apologize for never responding to your email last term. I intended to email you back, but instead got caught up reading my favorite philosophy blog.

Sincerely,

Brad

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

:)