When Meghan Arters discovered who her professors at Temple University would be, she couldn’t wait to check their ratings on ratemyprofessors.com, a website that lets college students evaluate their instructors.
While she found some useful information, one thing seemed off to her — the site’s “chili pepper” rating that allowed students to rate the “hotness” of professors.
“I didn’t go to Temple to meet boys and certainly wouldn’t pick my teacher based on how attractive people find them,” said Arters, an undeclared freshman in the College of Liberal Arts.
Ratemyprofessors.com removed its chili pepper “hotness” rating this summer after receiving backlash that started with a viral tweet by BethAnn McLaughlin, an assistant neurology and pharmacology professor at Vanderbilt University, on June 26.
“Life is hard enough for female professors,” she tweeted to ratemyprofessors.com. “Your ‘chili pepper’ rating of our ‘hotness’ is obnoxious and utterly irrelevant to our teaching. Please remove it because #TimesUP and you need to do better.”
Ratemyprofessors.com responded two days later, stating the attractiveness rating was meant to “reflect a dynamic/exciting style of teaching.” Still, McLaughlin’s words resonated with female and male educators and students across the country.
Dustin Kidd, an associate sociology professor and director of the Intellectual Heritage program, said it was always a terrible idea for ratemyprofessors.com to include the rating on the site.
“There is no connection between the attractiveness of the professor and the learning experience of the student,” Kidd said. “It’s true that attractiveness may impact how students feel about the class or the professor, but that feeling is not the same as learning.”
“We need to help students evaluate their learning in ways that are realistic, professional and informed by the research on learning and teaching,” he added.
Stephanie Fiore, an assistant vice provost at the Center for the Advancement of Teaching, said Temple faculty members have often discussed the “chili pepper” rating and the often subjective and negative comments students leave on the site.
“Comments [are made by] students who are motivated to comment, either because they love or hate the professor,” Fiore said. “You can get a skewed view of a professor’s work. One student may rate you low because you are challenging, and another may rate you high for the same reason.”
Some students agree the website is better off without the “chili pepper” rating.
“I personally would never choose a professor due to hotness … and have never taken the chili [pepper] into effect when choosing a professor,” said Mike McCarthy, a senior business management major. “I think that once everyone hits college they would rather have a great professor than one who is attractive.”
For Arters, the “chili pepper” rating is not only unhelpful, but also degrading to both male and female professors.
“They should be solely judged on their ability to teach,” Arters said.
The “chili pepper” backlash comes at a time when #MeToo, a movement to support survivors of sexual violence, has received national attention.
Fiore said “hotness” is irrelevant to professors’ work and can be especially harmful to female professors.
“It can undermine authority to position them as sex objects instead of as intellectual and professional experts in the field,” Fiore said. “It’s much better to focus on actual teaching, what students have learned and whether the environment is conducive to learning. Those are the things that matter at a university.”