In the past when selecting classes for the upcoming semester, the only precautionary method students could take was to ask a friend about the course. Is the teacher hard? Is the class worth it? After querying their friends, students would have to pray the OWLnet gods were in a good mood that day and hope for the best.
That is, until RateMyProfessors.com came along.
RateMyProfessors.com allows students to anonymously rate their professors in five categories: easiness, helpfulness, clarity, rater interest and “hotness.” Along with ratings, users can also post comments about their teachers after having taken one of their courses.
“I use RateMyProfessors.com for certain classes like calculus and physics to see if one teacher is better at explaining the subject,” said junior chemistry major Rachana Patel.
Combined with an Internet search, RateMyProfessors can give students a vivid portrait of their next semester. However what students consider a helpful tool, some professors consider a source of misinformation.
RateMyProfessors has occasionally drawn the criticism of professors, but none have been so angry as to threaten legal action, according to Katherine Coynor, an administrator program director.
Ambler political science coordinator Michael Hooper said he checks the site regularly. However he is careful to attach any legitimacy to the anonymous student comments.
“It’s quite apparent that a student has to be motivated to go [to the site]. This means only students who are very happy, or those with sour grapes,” he said.
Hooper said he prefers to read the student evaluations handed out at the end of every semester.
“That bad experience is not necessarily the result of the teacher. I take [the bad] results with a grain a salt,” said Megan Rimer, who teaches a course on professional development strategies required for all Fox School of Business students.
Posters on Hooper’s page at RateMyProfessor have given him an even mix of positive and negative rankings, with some positive comments left blank. This has led some students on Hooper’s page to accuse the professor of inflating his own rankings.
“That’s absurd, how in God’s name am I going to inflate my own rankings? I don’t know why they let that persist,” he said.
“Whenever we see a comment suggesting that a professor is rating himself it’s not something we can prove so we remove it,” said Coyner, who noted that a professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada lost his job over inflating his own ranking.
According to Coyner, the site uses several layers of administrators to police the ratings, including 1,383 volunteers. Of those 1,383, roughly 800 are trusted administrators that oversee other schools that might not have their own overseer.
Then there is another small group of administrators who “review the work of the other administrators and make sure they are doing what they are supposed to.”
Coyner said that the company also uses an automated program to comb through all of the comments, automatically deleting those made on the same computer. There are also preventative measures in place to impede a user from posting multiple comments about a teacher in a short time frame. All of these policies make it very difficult for a professor to inflate his or her own rankings.
“We do have things that prevent users from sitting at the computer and posting rating after rating,” she said.
The purpose of the “hotness” rating, denoted by a small chili pepper next to the professor’s name, also raises some concern among the site’s users.
“Those are jokes,” said Adam Hockenberry, a senior anthropology major. “I don’t take the ratings to heart.” Hockenberry said that the ratings on the site do not impact whether he drops a course, and that he values the student comments more than any numerical rating.
“Two years ago, one of my coworkers teaching an honors class showed me it,” said Rimer, noting that she was new to teaching at that time and did not have her own page. When told she had a chili pepper denoting her “hotness,” Rimer simply replied, “oh, that’s nice to know.”
For all the grief professors receive on the site, Rimer said students control the fate of their class.
“It’s up to the student to make it a good class,” Rimer said.
Sean Blanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.