“I had one student accuse me of being a communist because I seat the class alphabetically because there’s 350 people in the room,” said John Pantalone, chair of the University of Rhode Island’s journalism department about the website ratemyprofessors.com. The review site, founded in 1999, allows students from universities in America, Canada and the United Kingdom to rate their professors according to helpfulness, clarity, easiness and even “hotness.”
Students’ comments are completely anonymous, which allows them to write essentially anything they want. Comments ranging from “Run.” to “Best professor I’ve ever had!” fill the site daily.
“None of that stuff really has any effect on what I’m doing. I teach the classes the way I think I should teach them,” Pantalone said.
URI’s campus-wide profile currently has an overall quality rating of 3.8, and an average professor rating of 3.72. These numbers are based solely on student opinion and are a combination of student ratings on university reputation, social life, opportunities, clubs, happiness and so on, with no affiliation to the university whatsoever.
Although the website does not exist to bash professors or their methods of teaching, comments like those previously stated are very present. At the other end of the spectrum, comments acknowledging a professor’s hard work or attentiveness to the class can also be found just as frequently.
“I briefly browsed the site before coming to URI,” said freshman Grace Urban. Â “It did somewhat help me prepare for what I was stepping into my first year. Â The reviews I found were kind of bland…the majority addressed whether or not it’s easy, or if it’s easy to skip and still pass…that information isn’t too helpful for me.”
Due to the site’s anonymity and lack of credible information, the ratings and reviews have the risk of being untrue or inaccurate.
“It’s flawed in the system…it comes down to sometimes likes and dislikes of that professor, if you don’t like that person, you might have the tendency to give them a bad rating, regardless of what that professor does,” said Communications Professor Josh Choma. Â “That’s where the data can get askew. Â There’s a purpose behind it, it holds some value.”
“If students are looking for a sense from other students about whether a particular professor might be someone they’d like to take a class with, I guess it might function that way,” Pantalone said. “It might. Â There’s a lot about the internet in general that worries me…it’s dangerous to have people circulating public information that might not be true or accurate.”
RMP now contains information on 1.3 million professors and 14 million reviews. It also has become notorious for it’s yearly “Top Professor” or “Hottest Professor” of the year, and has recently added a rebuttal feature where professors are able to register and challenge reviews they disagree with.
Professors and students alike continue to argue its accuracy. Student evaluations on RMP account for 25 percent of Forbes’ annual America’s Best College listing.
“Asking students what they think about their courses is akin to what some agencies like Consumers Report or J.D. Powers and Associates do when they provide information on various goods or services,” a 2008 Forbes article by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity Staff said. Â “When the evaluations of dozens or even hundreds of instructors are added together, most examples of bias are washed out.”
“The general approach is to relate the results on this web site to the more established student evaluations of teaching (SET) that are routinely performed by most North American institutions of higher education…The research to date cautiously supports the view that RMP is relatively similar to the SET used by universities themselves.”
“I’m more concerned with whether people feel like they learned what they should learn in the class, than I am about whether they think I’m a funny guy or they like me,” Pantalone said when asked about his own reviews.