In 1999 John Swapceinski, a student at San Jose State University, created the website RateMyProfessors.com where students can critique and review their professors anonymously.
Professors and instructors on the site are rated a scale of one to five, with five being the best, in three categories on: easiness, helpfulness and clarity. The scores for helpfulness and clarity are then calculated for an overall quality score. A final “hotness” rating, symbolized by a chili pepper, is also shown.
The chili pepper is given for more then just humor. An article which ran in the New York Times, August 28, 2003 by Hal R. Varian, explored how beauty affects job evaluations.
Varian sites a study done by two economists which, according to the statistical analysis, found “good-looking professors got significantly higher teaching scores.”
The need for a non-school sanctioned way to rate the professors students are about to pay is something that has been argued for a long time. Waldeck Mainville, professor of mathematics, has 30 votes. He recalled how while working for his undergraduate degree his university had a rating system that was done by the fraternities. As a student he appreciated the information from other students. “So it’s always amazed me that this university, that no student organization that I knew of, maybe, before today, ever did that. But it should be done.”
Richard West, chair of the newly configured department of communication and media studies, has the second highest quantity of reviews for USM professors. He did not think that this website was helpful. He wasn’t sure if this website would do more to “promote those professors who entertain and those professors who are dancing as fast as they can as opposed to those professors who are more concerned about delivering content and delivering some sense of knowledge about a content area.”
Waldeck, who had not heard of this webpage before, has no plans to go and check out his reviews. An unregulated system would not cause him to change his teaching style if he “think it’s good for the students.”
West echoed that view. He added that “the website necessarily attracts the polarized views of the class room.”
As of Thursday, September 9, the website showed a total of 2,182,506 ratings on 412,483 professors at 4,105 universities. 3,265 ratings were added yesterday alone. USM has 368 professors reviewed on the site from Nancy Abel to Julie Zink.
Joseph R. Thompson can be contacted at [email protected]