Office hours with Rate My Prof

Victoria Zielinksi | Asst. Opinion Editor | The USD Vista

As registration for the spring semester approaches, students will be logging onto their MySanDiego accounts to begin searching for classes and organizing their schedules. While they balance a heap of open tabs to cross reference professors with classes and times, Rate My Professors rolls in as a hero of sorts, revealing secrets and tips that one might have never known about a professor’s class. For some students, it would be difficult to choose a dreaded 7:45 a.m. class, but it could be well worth it if the professor doesn’t take attendance nor gives open book quizzes.

Rate My Professors is a popular website that allows students to anonymously rate their professors on a number of factors, including level of difficulty and overall quality of courses. Students can also write their own comments and indicate if attendance is mandatory, if the professor teaches from the textbook, etc.

Students at the University of San Diego explained that while the website is useful for reference, it is risky to base an entire course schedule on their professor’s ratings due to the anonymity and context of the comments.

Senior Elaine Selna explained that she uses the website to pick her professors rather than pick specific classes, because she can get a general idea of the professor’s teaching style.

“Rate My Professors affects my decision in some ways, depending on what I was looking at the professor for,” Selna said.  “If I was looking for a general lower-division core class, it probably wouldn’t affect it as much. In an upper-division class, I would look at Rate My Professors and probably consult with my friends who have taken the class before or have had that professor before and get a second opinion, and use that to get a picture at least.”

Although Selna has not written a review before, she may write one to inform others if she had a different experience with a professor than she initially expected.

“If the expectation that a professor set in the beginning wasn’t met by the end, I would probably write a review,” Selna said. “I’ve had professors where they set the expectation and they give out the syllabus and they were really organized and prepared, and by the end they were really not. I’ve noticed that I probably would write it. That way someone would have a good understanding of if you expect this professor to be a certain way, just know that this was my experience, but take it with a grain of salt.”

Dr. Peter Mena, a professor of Theology and Religious Studies, became aware of the website some years ago when he first began teaching, but he has not read his ratings in a long time.

“I felt good about the ratings initially because they were generally positive,” Mena said.  “At the time, I felt good about what was being said about me or the score that was being given. It seems students might be going to this website to find out whether they should be signing up for a certain professor’s class, and I have heard dismissive comments from colleagues of the website not being something of value.”

Mena pointed out the differences between the student comments on the end-of-semester course evaluation and the comments on Rate My Professors.

“Comments on a course evaluation can be very helpful in terms of how I think about my own teaching and assignments and whatnot,” Mena said. “Rate My Professors to me feels slightly like other kinds of social media trolling. Someone who has been dissatisfied can go on there and say anything. I hope students don’t use this as a mechanism to choose a class.”

Because of its anonymous nature, it seems as though there is more of a sense of community in the Rate My Professors website than there would be on other platforms, but the quality of the content that is posted is up for debate.

“I think it’s good for students to be able to share their experiences in a way that is helpful to other students about whether or not taking a class is going to be helpful or good,” Mena said. “But I do think that each person learns as an individual learner and learns differently, and something that is helpful for one student may not be helpful for another. Rate My Professors opens itself up to not being useful information because angry students who are dissatisfied with a grade or a student who is angry with a professor are able to comment anonymously.”

Mena suggested a Facebook page format might be more useful or successful for students, with information such as “hard grader” rather than insults. He also explained his dissatisfaction with the “hotness” or “pepper” rating feature on the website.

“It’s highly problematic along gender lines,” Mena said. “Women professors are surveyed on how they look and what they wear. For Rate My Professors to provide a space or component to rate how they look or hotness level is unacceptable.”

The “pepper” icon on Rate My Professors allows students to vote on whether a professor is considered “hot”. The website explains that the “pepper“ appears on a professor’s page based on the sum of positive and negative (hot or not) ratings.

Junior Michael Sween has also heard of students using the website, but has never written a review himself.

“My friends talk about using the website — the ones that use it love it, they like to feel they are  ‘getting ahead’ of the bad professors or making a more educated decision on taking the class,” Sween said. “Typically if they are using it, they’ll say something like, ‘Dude you’re taking that professor? Check his review on Rate My Professor first!’”

Use of the website is common. Rate My Professors reported that users have added more than 19 million ratings, 1.7 million professors, and over 7,500 schools, and that it is the highest-trafficked site for quickly researching and rating professors, colleges, and universities.

Professors at USD have an average rating of 3.72 out of 5, and the school has 201 ratings as of Oct. 30. Most of them are positive, as USD has an overall quality rating of 4.1 out of 5, with location being the highest rated factor.

However, Sween has found many of the online reviews to be inaccurate. Professors do not always live up to their negative reviews.

“I had a couple professors that were general education professors,” Sween said. “People online would say  ‘they’re the worst’ and then I met them and they were super sweet and would try to help me with my assignments. I have no idea why they got such bad reviews. The reviews are either really honest, really mean, or really nice, but more often I’ve seen really mean.”

Sween further explained that a professor’s negative ratings generally don’t scare him away.

“I would definitely think twice about it if it had a bad rating,” Sween said. “If I could easily switch to an easier professor for the same class I would probably try to switch it, but it’s not that big of a deal to me. I like to make my own judgements.”

Selna was interested in whether professors write their own reviews on Rate My Professors to bolster their ratings.

“I think if they were to rate themselves they’d have to be much more tech savvy in this day and age,” Selna said. “I think a lot of my professors do see what they get rated but I don’t think they would manipulate their own. But I think they are definitely aware of themselves being rated by students. I’m curious if a younger professor would look at their ratings more than an older one.”

Even though the negative comments provide good insight for students, Selna thought about the stress that must accompany professors being anonymously rated.

“I’d feel really bad as [a] professor getting rated,” Selna said. “It’s really hard to see, but I feel like there’s also a lot of kind comments. I think if you’re a good professor and you get good reviews it probably is very uplifting because I think in the teacher evaluations it’s harder to know. But if you’re doing your job the best you can and people don’t appreciate it, I think it can be really devastating to see that.”

At the end of the semester, professors hand out course evaluations for students to fill out anonymously to review the professor and the course. Selna explained that the comments on the course evaluations and on Rate My Professors may differ, even though they are both review methods.

“I think online it’s more honest or brash than on the course evaluations where people tend to be more polite than vindictive,” Selna said. “On Rate My Professors, the comments are anonymous but they don’t go directly to the professor, so the professor would have to seek out that rating themselves, whereas in the course evaluations they have to have their ratings for their portfolio.”

Sween stated that there is a more straightforward element to the Rate My Professors website.

“People are way more honest on Rate My Professors than on the end-of-semester assessments,” Sween said. “People only put negative comments on end-of-year assessments if they really hate the teacher. Rate My Professors goes into more detail — some people are very honest and really want to talk about how the professor was, and others just use it as a space to vent.”

At USD, it seems that while the Rate My Professors website is definitely referenced from time to time, students generally refer to the ratings and then make their own decisions on whether they want to take a certain professor. The website has room to improve, and possibly more filtered and monitored comments could make the ratings more useful to students and more accurate for professors.