Since its origin, the website Rate My Professors has served as an oracle for students navigating the treacherous world of picking classes. What students don’t often see is the other side of the coin: how it affects professors.
Rate My Professors is the largest and most used professor ratings site with 17 million ratings, 1.6 million rated professors and over 7,000 participating schools. Since Rate My Professors is an open and anonymous forum, students are free to write whatever they want and assign ratings for overall quality and level of difficulty.
Students don’t have any constraints when writing reviews, so the site ranges from the nice (“I really enjoyed his class and I wish he taught another one because I came out so much smarter”) to the weird (“Probably the hottest teacher at NYU, hands down”) on the same page.
John Michael Halpin, the NYU Chemistry professor who is the subject of these two reviews, said he checks his page, but he often doesn’t take the ratings seriously.
“I did see a few that were intended as jokes, because there’s nothing hot about the presentation,” Halpin said. “Chemistry is hot, it’s me that’s not.”
But potential students aren’t the only ones using these reviews. While the site is targeted at students trying to choose a teacher, sometimes professors take criticism from Rate My Professors as well.
NYU history professor Michael Peachin was spurred on by his students to check his page on the website, and upon viewing numerous reviews of him being too easy and students having to do no work, he decided to make his class more difficult. Soon after, reviews started coming in about his class being too hard.
“I was reacting to students who seemed annoyed with my class,” Peachin said. “It was counterproductive. But it’s probably not a good idea for professors to look at their pages. They should have the mentality that ‘I’ll teach the way I want to teach and if they don’t like it, oh well.’”
Peachin, like many other professors we talked to, has decided to stop looking at his page because many of the reviews lack true variety. Most reviews tend to be written if students had a fantastic experience or out of passive aggression from a bad experience, but there aren’t a lot in the middle.
“Some problems arise out of spite and other students just say that the class is easy, and neither of those things are good reasons to choose a class, as far as I’m concerned,” Peachin said.
Whether the site is accurate or not, NYU Computer Science professor Craig Kapp was very excited about his page being ranked fifth on the 2015-16 list of Highest Rated University Professors and placing in the top 15 for his second year in a row.
“I told my department and they were excited,” Kapp said. “It was very cool and a very unexpected thing. I certainly wasn’t looking for it, it just kind of fell in my lap.”
While Peachin, Halpin and Kapp had different opinions on the site, they all agreed the site shouldn’t be a deciding factor in choosing a class, but getting information from it about teacher isn’t all bad.
“If a professor has a lot of reviews, you have a wide range of opinions to go on,” Kapp said. “That could be valuable. These are important years in your life and you want to get the most out of it as you can, so getting all the information ahead of time is not a bad thing.”
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