By Channing Flatt—
Tarleton State University professors have given the website RateMyProfessors.com mixed reviews. Some love it. Some hate it. Some are indifferent to it.
RateMyProfessors.com’s ratings can be found on many university campuses across the country and even the world. With over 19 million reviews at over 8,000 universities across the globe, RateMyProfessors.com is the most popular website of its kind.
Dr. Karl Aho, an assistant professor of Philosophy, not only has a poor opinion of RateMyProfessors.com, but believes it to be unethical.
“I think it’s harmful,” he says. “I think it promotes what the great Danish philosopher Kierkegaard might call the relentless mentality of comparison, and I don’t think that’s a great way for us to live our lives.”
“It’s bad for students,” he added, “in that it promotes a sort of consumer mindset to education, treating a college course like something you would look up on Yelp.”
When asked on a scale of 1-5 what he would rate the website, Aho expressed if he could give a negative rating, he would; despite having a 4.8 rating in the overall quality category.
“I’m pretty much as opposed to the site as I can be. It seems that the only good function of the site is to provide students information about courses, and I think that’s great. Students should be informed about the courses they’re signing up for. However, I think the site’s problematic,” Aho said.
Christopher Gearhart, assistant professor in the Department of Communication studies, has a 4.2 overall quality rating and is one faculty member who would disagree with Aho. Gearhart thinks the website is a good information-seeking tool and can even help students in reducing the anxiety of signing up for classes.
“I personally would rate it a 5 (out of 5). I think it’s a good tool for students to be able to get good information about their classes, about their professors,” Gearhart said. “I think that in terms of communication, students use RMP as kind of an information-seeking tool. What is the class like, what is the professor like, and that uncertainty causes people anxiety and worry. So, they can go and can read about the course and get some information about how it’s going to be.”
Gearhart, who has read research on the site and is even working on research of his own, said he was very surprised by what the research showed.
“I think the belief among a lot of professors is that students get a bad grade or have a bad experience and they want to go on there and just blast them and have all these negative comments. But really what the research shows is that students that are going on there are posting positive comments,” Gearhart said.
Although Gearhart said he has a high approval of the website now, he did not always look at it so favorably.
“I also had the belief that students would just go on there and leave a bunch of negative comments because they had a bad taste in their mouth after a bad experience or a bad grade. So, it was surprising to see they (the reviews) were majority positive.”
Silver Barns, adjunct instructor for the Psychology Department, who boasts a rating of 4.5 in the overall quality rating, says that she found RateMyProfessors.com useful as a student, but since becoming an instructor has grown indifferent to the website.
“As a student it’s very helpful so probably a four (out of five). As a professor it doesn’t really bother me either way so either a two and a half or a three (out of five),” Barns said.
Regarding whether she ever checked her own reviews, Barns said she does, but mostly to find ways to improve her classes.
“It’s good to see what kids like so you can continue to do those things,” Barns added.
When it comes to any bad reviews on the site, Barns said she has thick skin regarding negative comments.
“Well I’ve taught before, and I’ve taught in a charter school with a lot of kids who had lots of home problems and stuff and they’re honest and they tell it to your face. So, what was written online didn’t hurt my feelings. Well, it did for a second but not enough to discourage me,” Barns said.
Even though Barns said her reviews don’t phase her, she has seen negative reviews have a real-life impact.
“We did have a GA (graduate assistant) before that had one of the negative ones (reviews) and that made them not want to teach when they got done. And it just impacted them to where they didn’t feel like they could overcome it,” Barns said.
Chelsea Bradley, graduate teaching assistant of the Psychology Department, said that she doesn’t have any reviews, but doesn’t know of many instructors who even check the website.
“Most instructors that I know don’t even read their own reviews. I probably wouldn’t because I’m afraid of getting my own feelings hurt,” Bradley said.
One criticism that the site has drawn is its “Hot or Not” feature. The site’s feature, which is represented by a chili pepper, let students rate how attractive their professors are.
Karl Aho thinks that the feature has no place in education.
“It’s (RateMyProfessors.com) particularly bad probably in gender weights. There’s definitely the chili pepper where you rate your faculty as hot or not which is problematic and not something we should promote in education,” Aho said.
However, fellow instructor Silver Barns says that she has no problem with the feature.
“I don’t really have a problem with it. Everybody has their own level of attractiveness. So what may be attractive to one person may not be necessarily attractive to another, but for some students I don’t know if it’s just personal not necessarily their outer appearance, but how they portray their self,” Barns said.
Tarleton professors may have mixed reviews when it comes to the website RateMyProfessors.com but it is something they must live with. And although the reviews are anything but official, it doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact.