Students Now Grading Teachers

RYAN PILE
El Vaquero Staff Writer

“Instant amnesia walking into this class,” writes one student. “I swear he breaths sleeping gas.”

“Please, retire or rejoin the ‘Dawn of the Dead,'” writes another user.

The list of professor commentaries continues, with more than 260 teachers from Glendale alone. Each teacher is accompanied with frank, often-colorful feedback from hundreds of students.

The Web site, www.ratemyprofessors.com, is essentially a dream-come-true for many college students: a report card for teachers.

The Web site has taken to the Internet the favorite collegiate tradition of passing along which teachers are boring, which are difficult and which are an easy A.

“One thing a teacher should never do is discuss their personal life with students,” writes one student. “If you hear something like three divorces, wash-out film writer and just remarried it doesn’t give that role-model image.”

The site’s 1.7 million ratings do not all contain the same sarcasm and disdain. Most of the ratings are surprisingly positive — more than 65 percent according to site statistics.

“I was nervous about philosophy, but he made it fun,” one user writes about instructor Steve Bie. “He is laid back.”

Some even provide tips on how to get a better grade in certain classes. The site rates more than 353,000 teachers from 3,889 schools nationwide in four areas: easiness, helpfulness, clarity and hotness.

If enough users decide a professor is physically attractive, a red chili pepper appears next to his or her name and a smiley face icon shows their overall rating. Some question whether physical characteristics should be included. It is “just for fun,” according to the site.

The site’s goal is not to provide students with just the physical makeup of teachers but a wide variety of information they can use before enrolling in classes. That is something the site’s founder, John Swapeinski, wished he had in 1999 while attending San Jose State University.

After a disappointing experience with a professor, he created www.ratemyprofessors.com. Traffic to the site has exploded in the five years since its inception. Up to 9,000 ratings are added each day and many similar sites have started, including www.ratemyteacher.com, a high school equivalent.

While enjoyed by many students, teachers have mixed reviews about the site.

“The downside is that in some cases only one or two students have rated many of the instructors, which introduces a bias,” said Professor Gerardo Nebbia. “My advice to students is to use it as one way of rating professors, but to try to get information from other sources.”
Some question the site’s accuracy, considering just about anyone can post a rating.

“It is not possible for us to verify which raters had which teacher, so always take the ratings with a grain of salt,” the site warns. “We have no way of knowing who is doing the rating — students, the teacher, other teachers, parents, dogs, cats…”

Some of the ratings, all of which are screened, go beyond meaningful feedback, some say.

“I started reading some of the comments about other instructors — most of whom I know and respect — and I was absolutely floored by the level of viciousness of some of the postings.” said one GCC professor who asked not to be named. “Commentaries had nothing to do with an instructor’s competence, but were simply meant to hurt and humiliate the person.”

Professors have gone as far as to take legal action against these Web sites. In 1999, two professors from City College of San Francisco sued www.teacherreviews.com for defamation. Professors Curzon Brown and David Wall dropped the suit against the site a year later.

The site, which was started in 1995, is temporarily offline “because of threats from a professor to press legal action because of his reviews,” according to a notice currently on the homepage. The site is sceduled to restart soon.

The original lawsuit, and others like it, failed because the law provides site providers immunity from postings they did not write.
Student Shannon Hunefeld, 20, shrugs off the contentious comments, saying “when [professors] were students they probably said the same things.”