At the start of each semester, students everywhere flock to the online database known as Ratemyprofessors.com, where they can rate, review and read about potential professors.
Some are in search of the easiest teachers; some are checking to see if the rumors are true; and some are hoping to find an instructor with a red hot chili pepper next to their name.
But with each comment that is being made, how do those being ranked feel about students commenting on their in-class performance?
According to associate professor William McBride, there are both positive and negative aspects surrounding the online community.
“The good news is that student consumers deserve a voice and the site provides that. The bad news, like all social media that allows anonymity, there is no accountability, verification or redress for professors,” McBride said.
Because users are able to leave their comments namelessly, there is no way of detecting whether or not observations are credible, genuine or even remotely accurate.
Professors can only hope that students are able to distinguish between a reliable review and complete nonsense.
“I suspect most users know how to read between the lines and can determine that extremely negative reviews often include an ‘unfair grading’ complaint,” McBride said.
Instructional assistant professor of marketing James Munz explores the website from time to time out of curiosity, but doesn’t view it favorably or unfavorably.
Munz places little value on the information found on the site, simply because of how misleading it can be for students.
“It is likely that some of the posts are fake. I know non-students have rated professors. A faculty friend of mine entertains himself by occasionally posting on Rate My Professors,” Munz says.
With the chance of reviews being completely useless, should students allow the website to ascertain which courses they enroll into and which courses they kick to the curb?
Some may say no, but perhaps there is an upside to Rate My Professors for the students who are utilizing it.
As both an instructor and a student, graduate teaching assistant Julie Maio has had a different experience with the infamous site.
Maio views it as a great place for students to decide what professors they should take and what professors they should essentially avoid.
“In some cases, taking a class with a certain professor can severely hinder a student’s performance. Thankfully, Rate My Professors helps students avoid that scenario,” Maio said.
She acknowledges the fact that there are always going to be useless or even offensive reviews, but believes that it is important to take each one with a grain of salt.
Maio even sees the website as a great way for professors to see what their students really think of them. In fact, instructors can provide feedback on their reviews with the Professor Feedback tool.
But regardless of whether professors are in favor or against Rate My Professors, students will continue to utilize it, and instructors will continue to talk about it.
“I’m still waiting for that elusive hot chili pepper,” McBride said.