The semester is not over yet, but the grades are already coming in. Year-round college students from across the United States and Canada log onto the Internet’s largest listing of collegiate professor ratings and anonymously assign their teachers grades.
For decades, students had to rely on friends’ advice, or personal experience to know what professors they should search out and who they should avoid. But the internet website, RateMyProfessors.com has made it easier for today’s students.
A student planning on attending a college out of state, or in Canada, can look up his or her prospective school and find out what the current student population thinks of an instructor, from the comfort of a home computer.
The RateMyProfessors website has been in operation since 1999 and has grown rapidly as the hushed word spread across campuses nation wide. Approximately 5,600 schools and 725,000 professors are listed.
The website is free for users, but because of the costs of bandwidth, not all of the professor’s ratings are listed. As a result, only the ten most recent ratings for each instructor are free. To access the full list of ratings, the site has created the RMP Unlocked membership. Depending on whether the user wants a six month or year long membership, he or she can expect to pay between $9.99 and $18.99.
Even though there is a campus in Clearlake, only Woodland and Yuba Community Colleges are listed. Students can find these schools at the end of the alphabetical list of colleges and then choose the name of the professor they wish to grade.
Users rank instructors on a five point scale, with five valued as the best. Unlike the collegiate grading system, based on academic achievement, a teacher’s Overall Quality score is an average of the instructor’s grades in helpfulness and clarity.
Other categories students can use for rating a teacher, which aren’t included in the Overall Quality score, are a teacher’s easiness and hotness. Nearly every student considers a teacher’s difficulty when taking a class, but because it is so controversial, it is left out of the teacher’s total score.
Like getting an “F” on a transcript, a missing “hotness” chili pepper or harsh comment in a review could hurt professors’ feelings and damage egos. As a result, the website has earned the reputation of becoming students’ dirty little secret.
Last year, a sociology professor who did a study on the website in 2004, at the University of Waterloo, told Wired News, “By and large, RateMyProfessors is unmentionable in university administrations. Many professors won’t even admit that they look at their ratings on the website.”
Despite accusations that the website is a place for students to retaliate for receiving a bad grade, statistics show that more than 65 percent of the ratings are positive.
But because users can access the website for free, the questions remains, “Who can rate? Is it limited to students?”
In the help section of the website, RateMyProfessors answers, “We prefer that you only rate teachers you have first-hand knowledge of.” However, the site admits that “it is not possible for us to verify which raters had which teachers… Remember, we have no way of knowing who is doing the rating– students, the teacher, other teachers, parents, dogs, cats, etc.”
When asked whether she thought it was fair for teachers to be graded in a system that is not purely made up of students who have taken their courses, a Woodland instructor chuckled, “I think its okay. Students talk anyway. Word gets around.”