“He is disgusting, and his attitude is the worst. He doesn’t explain what he wants from his students, and then he belittles them in front of the class. Today, he called somebody stupid all day and thought it was funny,” a comment on RateMyProfessors.com reads.
“That’s probably true, because they probably said something that was absolutely insane,” Temple professor Terence Oliva responded on mtvU’s Professors Strike Back. “There may be incorrect answers, but with things that are just absolutely insane, I tell them I’m not going to let them fly.”
So is the phenomenon of Professors Strike Back, a broadcast and online series where professors can respond to students’ anonymous complaints, criticisms or compliments posted on RateMyProfessors.com.
When mtvU launched the episodes in September, Professors Strike Back quickly became one of the most popular series in mtvU history, said Jason Rzepka, mtvU’s director of communications.
“A lot of professors have mixed feelings about the site,” Rzepka said. “It’s tough to get professors to participate, but one of the biggest complaints is that they never had a forum to respond.”
In January 2007, mtvU purchased the popular rating Web site and launched its video series featuring professors in September. Professors Strike Back has accounted for 40 percent of the total streams on mtvu.com for the year, Rzepka said.
The site currently features four Temple professors, including Oliva from the Fox School of Business. It was a cold November day, he recalled, when three people from mtvU met Oliva in Rittenhouse Square to film him responding to comments from RateMyProfessors.com.
Oliva said he initially did not want to participate because he had nothing to strike back about.
“I’ve never cared,” he said. “We get a rating from all of our students every semester. Whatever’s on [the site] is biased.”
Oliva described the production of the episodes as quick and laid-back. A staff of three asks the professor to respond to six comments from the site, and the editors choose the most entertaining responses. They also have an opportunity to give general feedback on RateMyProfessors.com.
Oliva teaches an upper-level marketing course that mostly consists of graduating seniors, and said he warns students upfront about his aggressive teaching style in the course syllabus.
“I don’t believe I’m a great professor,” Oliva said. “A great professor should walk on water. And I don’t walk on water.”
Though Oliva hasn’t gone on the site to see exactly what clips mtvU chose for his national debut, his children did. His daughter, he said, responded with an unimpressed “Eh,” but his son found it entertaining.
And that’s why adjunct economics professor Laura Shinn participated on Professors Strike Back, too.
“My 13-year-old son said, ‘Mom, that’s really cool. Why don’t you do that?’” she said. “That was the big driver.”
Shinn, who also adjuncts at Chestnut Hill College, is a graduate student at Temple going for her Ph.D. in economics. She said students at Chestnut Hill are more about writing goofy comments about the professors, as compared to Temple students who can get more personal.
A majority of Shinn’s comments on RateMyProfessors.com are positive, but she wanted to address a few ratings that weren’t favorable.
One comment read that Shinn is “really hot. [I] would love to have a private tutoring session with her.”
“Well, that’s very flattering,” Shinn said on the site with a nervous laugh. “Was that really from a student? I thought my brother wrote it.”
Shinn said she was skeptical about being interviewed at first because she thought the title of the show was too controversial, something Rzepka also addressed.
“In the beginning, as for professors, [there was] a lot of skepticism,” Rzepka said. “A lot of professors have mixed feelings about the site, that the comments are anonymous.”
But with up to four new professors added on air and on the site each week, the site has definitely taken off, Rzepka said.
“College students have been consuming it,” he said. “There’s been a huge appetite for the show, and we see that with each new episode that premieres each week.”
A complaint by some professors is that RateMyProfessors.com may give students the wrong impression about them. Shinn said that when most students write poor critiques of professors, they are usually students who haven’t finished the course.
“If people write things before the course is over, they write more negative things,” Shinn said. “That doesn’t reflect what [other students] write on the course evaluation form.”
Similarly, Oliva said the students that generally comment on RateMyProfessors.com are a highly self-selected group of people, comparing the response to laundry detergent.
“If you buy Tide detergent and it works, you won’t really write about it,” he said. “If you buy Tide and it ruins your clothes, you’re going to write and complain.”
Kristi Mitchell, an undeclared freshman, said she does take some stock in what other students are saying on the site about professors.
“If they say they’re hard or they can’t understand them, I won’t take that class,” she said. “I think the students will go with whatever other students say.”
Freshman biology education major Clarke Hunt said students who comment on the site aren’t always the most reliable sources.
“[Professors Strike Back] will provide a more balanced opinion because students tend to be biased,” Hunt said.
Even though professors don’t always receive favorable reviews, Oliva said there’s no point trying to slow down the growing craze.
“We live in the Internet age. Trying to stop this kind of thing is ridiculous,” he said. “It’s a good outlet for some people who need to blow some steam. The downside could be anyone who goes there and says, ‘This is the Word of God.’”
Shinn said she’d like to see more constructive criticism on the site instead of the negative professor bashing that has become prevalent.
“You may not be hearing things that will be helpful to another student,” she said. “It’s probably hard to get comments specific to ‘how you can be successful in this class.’”
RateMyProfessors.com will not see many changes in the future, Rzepka said, because mtvU wants to maintain the elegance and simplicity of the site. A team at mtvU is dedicated to doing outreach to professors, looking over comments, and finding the most interesting ratings.
“We encourage Temple students to rate their professors,” Rzepka said. “As you are winding your way through the semester, register your feedback. The more ratings on the site, the more it’s going to accurately reflect your professor.”
Chris Stover can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.