I’m not going to act like I’ve never used Rate My Professors. However, I believe a common perception among students is that instructors are somehow unaware of the pervasive juggernaut that is ratemyprofessors.com.
It’s a controversial resource, but not one without value. It’s not like you can drop a review of a professor on Yelp or Google Reviews, but somehow, you have to get your opinion out there. Where do you go? Rate My Professors. That way, everyone can know whose class to take and whose to avoid.
One professor doesn’t take attendance? It is your responsibility, your literal duty, to let everyone else know. One professor gives a final that includes questions not covered in class lectures? Protect the masses, throw up a review.
However, according to the online newspaper Inside Higher Ed, some research suggests that Rate My Professors ratings influence students’ opinions on final evaluations. That can be bad.
Most universities still use final evaluations as a factor in making decisions about keeping personnel around. At most institutions, if your final evals are bad, you’re closer to getting the proverbial ax.
A study published in January in “Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education” analyzed 7.9 million Rate My Professors reviews. The study evaluated 190,000 U.S. instructors that had 20 or more reviews. The study looked for correlation between quality of instruction ratings and hotness, easiness and discipline ratings.
The results showed the biggest factors in how professors were rated on the site: the gender of the professor, the subject taught and hotness rating.
The study showed male instructors were consistently rated higher than female instructors. Instructors in STEM fields consistently received lower ratings than instructors in the arts and humanities while instructors rated as attractive received higher teaching scores.
If attractiveness equates to higher ratings, and if higher ratings equate to better evals, it’s in your best interest to be pretty. My plan was set. Be perceived as hot, make tenure, easy.
Of course, Rate My Professors threw a wrench in my plan when they cut the chili rating this July.
Honestly, now I’m worried about the future of my instruction. Students have no chance to know ahead of time how I rank in, which messes up my whole plan here.
The titan who was the chili didn’t fall for nothing. It’s virtually inarguable that women face a tough time in academia. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published the results of a two-year study earlier this year that found the most common form of harassment in academia is gender-based. Women deal with sexual harassment and disparaging comments, particularly in STEM fields.
Additionally, there’s a real phenomenon that female instructors face tougher evals than male instructors. Often, in open-ended questions on evals, students disparage or otherwise focus on female instructors’ appearance.
In July, things came to a head when neurologist BethAnn McLaughlin, at Vanderbilt University, tweeted at Rate My Professors, “Life is hard enough for female professors. 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.”
McLaughlin’s tweet, which she made after reading the National Academies’ study, gained 15,000 retweets and an outpouring of support. Just two days later, Rate My Professors tweeted it was removing the chili. However, Rate My Professors also offered the parting shot that the chili was representative of a dynamic or interesting teaching style, and not hotness, despite evidence from itself that pointed otherwise.
Back in 2014, as an April Fools’ Joke, Rate My Professors launched a new site, Date My Professors, which, on its own, damages the “dynamic or interesting teaching” style argument.
Regardless of whether it was or wasn’t a hotness rating (it was), the chili fell. You can no longer go check the perceived hotness of instructors since all traces of the chili were erased from the website. For the best.
However, I’m still affronted. I have been cheated out of an integral part of my Rate My Professors reviews, leaving me out here without a chili rating. Beyond word of mouth, no one’s going to know whether I’m attractive and a great teacher now.
At the very least, I’m still a dude and an instructor in the humanities, so by the studies, I’m still greatly advantaged compared to my female contemporaries, particularly any teaching STEM.
Still, I want every advantage I can get. Maybe we can restart Date My Professors.