Lack of accountability reduces ratemyprofessors.com reliability

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    Before advising begins Nov. 1, students may soon be driving up the traffic at ratemyprofessors.com by looking up which professors they want for the spring semester.

    A lack of regulation on comments posted to the website, however, limits its credibility, Department of Mathematics Chair and mathematics professor Robert Doran said.

    “Any student can say anything without any requirements or being held accountable for what they put down,” he said.

    Associate Dean for the College of Science and Engineering Magnus Rittby said that although the website may be one resource to use when researching classes, students should also prepare for their classes by speaking with other classmates and friends.

    Accurate ratings about professors were difficult to achieve because only several students from large classes actually comment about their professors, he said.

    “Ratemyprofessors.com gives a very limited perspective of the given faculty member,” Rittby said.

    Junior strategic communications major Colin Huffines, however, said he thought the website provided students with useful and credible information about classes and professors.

    “Most of the ratings of the professors are accurate,” he said.

    Huffines said he enrolled in two classes of the same subject but with two different professors his freshman year. One of the professors ranked higher than the other according to the website, he said.

    He said he chose to drop the class taught by the poorly-rated professor after attending several sessions. Huffines said he enjoyed the class taught by the higher-ranked professor much better.

    He also left comments on the website to help other students prepare for classes, he said.

    “I only leave comments if the professors are either really, really good or just absolutely awful,” Huffines said.

    There is no reason to leave comments about mediocre professors because those comments do not offer students the useful information they are looking for, he said.

    Rittby, on the other hand, said the extreme opinions of the students who are posting comments pose another concern for the website.

    “People who are more prone to give comments are either people that are very unhappy or people who are happy,” he said. “The majority of the students are somewhere in between.”

    Doran said he does not use the website to evaluate professors on a professional level.

    Professors are instead rated according to Student Perception of Teaching evaluations, which are taken very seriously by the chairs of each department, he said.

    “When I give the [SPOT evaluations] out to my students, I say, “I want you to be perfectly and completely honest about this,'” he said.

    Students should not make light of the evaluations because the comments they leave are used, in part, to determine whether or not professors receive tenure, raises or promotions, he said.

    The popularity of the site even caught the attention of incoming freshmen and their parents during class registration, Doran said.

    “They already know which professors they want just on the basis of ratemyprofessors.com before they even get here,” he said.

    Huffines said freshmen want to know what to expect when they enroll in their classes, and the website allows them to do that.

    Doran said the site impacts the way classes fill during registration depending on a professors’ popularity based on student rankings and comments. Some well-qualified professors do not have the enrollment they should because of their rankings on the website.

    Rittby said that although professors do occasionally check their ratings on the website, he rarely hears of professors regularly monitoring their scores. Professors feel flattered when they read positive comments about themselves.

    Doran said some of his colleagues receive negative ratings, which are discouraging and even harmful to the professors.

    “From a personal point of view, any professor likes to at least have good ratings because you are a human being,” he said.

    He said use of the website should be left to the discretion of students.

    “I don’t recommend the website, and I don’t discourage it,” Doran said.