Professors have long been taking it, and now they can dish it too.
RateMyProfessors.com, launched in 1999, has come to be the bane of some professors’ semesters. The public site allows students to anonymously rate instructors on categories like clarity, helpfulness, ease and even some qualities that arguably aren’t critical to learning, such as hotness.
“We love our jobs,” said "The Professor," an associate professor at a small college in the South who started Rate Your Students anonymously in November. “But we are reacting to something we see as unfair,” he said in an interview. The Professor makes sure that neither people who submit a post to the blog nor the students they rail against are identifiable.
Several students pointed out that, ostensibly, RateMyProfessors.com, which lists over 700,000 professors, has a function: to provide information for students trying to choose courses, whereas Rate Your Students does not. The Professor, however, sees utility. “When we have the occasional moment of frustration,” he said, “to vent -- that makes me a better teacher.” Judging from the posts, plenty of professors need a cyber ear to bend. The Professor said he was getting in the vicinity of 100 hits a day at first, but since a mention in a recent Village Voice article, that number has been around 3,000. The Professor said he can’t get through all the rants that are being submitted anymore, but he still hopes to get the cream of the crop on the site.
A post from an English instructor in Wisconsin satirized RateMyProfessors.com by rating anonymous students in a few choice categories.
“Density: Uranium,” the post reads. “Your opinion of your abilities: 3 (to write a novel, you should first read one).” As is a major theme among the posts, the Wisconsin professor chafes at students’ lack of interest in learning, and then just does some good old fashioned steam blowing. “I truly doubt that you could read this,” the teacher writes to a student. “In fact, I truly doubt that you have opposable thumbs.”
Other posts respond directly to RateMyProfessors.com critiques. One tenured business professor from Arizona describes himself as “a big man, over 300 lbs. Not especially fit. I get a big red face after walking up the stairs to class.” He refers to being called “Fatty” in RateMyProfessors.com comments. One student wrote “He loves him some big fat lady too I bet." Observed the business prof: “Nothing about whether I stay after class or not. Nothing about me helping them with their projects.... Why on earth do you think I come to Rate Your Students for a little proxy thrill.”
The Professor said he thinks that teacher evaluations are useful, just not the sort on RateMyProfessors.com, “that are unmonitored” and do not verify whether a commentator even attended the college in question. In the interest of fostering teacher/student Web-dialogue, The Professor posts some student reactions as well.
“Listen, THE PROFESSOR,” wrote a junior from New Jersey, “if you really want to understand what it's like to have professors like you grade us, rate us, poke us and prod us every day, take a walk in my shoes.” The student relates a chilling account of her daily experience, populated by a bulimic roommate, a “stinking drunk” adviser, and a professor who looks up her skirt. “I'm glad I'll never have to see him again. But I bet there's another one like him waiting for me next semester.”
For himself, the Professor said he once formulated a letter in his head after a student bashed him to his face. “The experience of mentally writing that letter made me feel 10 years younger,” he said. The Professor said that his ratings on RateMyProfessors.com are generally good, but that he thinks some of his colleagues have been unfairly maligned on the site.
Kevin Carlsmith, an assistant professor of psychology at Colgate University, studies the effect of vengeance on the psyche. “People anticipate feeling quite good from retribution,” he said, “but they actually feel worse.” Carlsmith said he finds Rate Your Students to be useless, because professors can’t choose students, and he feels no need to vent. Then again, he got glowing marks on RateMy Professors.com, in addition to what many consider that site's top honor: the chili pepper, signifying a hot prof.
Some professors agree that revenge should not drive faculty members to vent online. “It seems to me professor ought to be mature enough not to need revenge,” said Mary Clark, a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire.
Patrick Nagle, chief operating officer of RateMyProfessors.com, characterized Rate Your Students as “an outlet for disgruntled professors. It really does seem like it’s more of a flame site, as opposed to Rate My Professor, which is an outlet for students to improve their college experience,” he said. Of course, he conceded that the hotness rating was not quite created with learning in mind.
Thankfully for many professors, some students don’t put much stock in anonymous ratings. Brandi Brown, a senior at Williams College, said that she doesn’t mind professors venting as long as it’s totally anonymous, and, as for RateMyProfessors.com, “it’s just better to ask around than to rely on anonymous input.” Brown also said she does sometimes use Factrak, an internal professor rating system that verifies all users are actually Williams students.
But even detractors of RateMyProfessors.com can find comments on the site hard to shake. The Professor recalled Googling someone who was applying for a job at his institution. Up came the RateMyProfessors.com comments, and several noted that the person in question would bring her cat to class. “I have no way to know if this is true,” The Professor said. “But once it was in there, I couldn’t get it out of my brain. That’s stupid! I know better.” At least if any such gossip costs professors new jobs, they now have a place to turn.
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