Rate My Rating System

What’s the best way to find out whether your instructor sucks?

The chili pepper is gone from RateMyProfessors.com. It disappeared this summer after BethAnn McLaughlin, assistant professor of neurology at Vanderbilt University, tweeted at Rate My Professors: “Life is hard enough for female professors. Your ‘chili pepper’ rating of our ‘hotness’ is obnoxious and utterly irrelevant to our teaching. Please remove it because #TimesUP and you need to do better.”

A social media campaign ensued, and two days later the judgmental little vegetable was gone. Hopefully students were not taking classes based on spicy-icon professorial eye-candy options alone. Pepper or no, according to an informal survey of my current Lane Community College students, they do still use Rate My Professors to spec out their LCC instructors and see if they are any good before signing up. (Full disclosure: As an instructor at LCC, I had a pepper).

And no, they say, they weren’t influenced by the chili pepper’s presence or current lack thereof in choosing whom to take from.

Before I left for college, my high school writing teacher told me the best way to choose a class was not based on what you thought you wanted to take or your major, but on what other students thought of the professor. Learning from good teachers, he explained, opens you up to studying disciplines you never would have otherwise.

I wound up with a degree in folklore and a career as a journalist, so take that advice as you will.

Word of mouth is always an option, but this is the internet age. I assumed that students would Google their instructors prior to signing up. But when it comes to classes that fill up quickly, like the college writing courses WR 121 and 122, my students tell me they often grab the course based on what fits in their schedule.

LCC has some controversial instructors like Daniel Mackay, a writing teacher who was convicted of prostitution, and philosophy instructor Jeffrey Borrowdale, who is active on social media with his libertarian viewpoint and has had allegations of alt-right ties against him. The histories of both instructors turn up in quick Google searches for their names.

Political leanings or criminal allegations aside, for those who want to specifically check the teaching skills of their profs and instructors, websites such as Rate My Professors, and to a lesser extent Rate My Teachers, are the easiest way for students to see if an instructor is any good these days (or to take out your angst on someone who gave you a bad grade via angry comments).

Interestingly enough, in the cases of both Mackay and Borrowdale, they both get good ratings on Rate My Professor, with Mackay at a 3.9 and Borrowdale at a 3.7.

Rate My Professor might affect how you choose a course, but has no direct affect on an instructor’s career, though student evaluations done through the school can and do go on an instructor’s record. The University of Oregon made headlines in educational media sources like Inside Higher Education when it began to look into revising how it conducts student evaluations of instruction.

Getting back to the chili pepper issue, Inside Higher Ed reports that numerous studies show that student evaluations tend to “advantage faculty members of certain genders and backgrounds (namely white men) and disadvantage others.”

Negative feedback from students can have an effect on faculty tenure promotions. So, according the UO’s Office of the Provost, “More than simply replacing problematic evaluation instruments,” the school seeks “to develop a holistic new teaching evaluation system that helps the campus community define, develop, evaluate and reward teaching excellence at the University of Oregon.”

This includes a “Midterm Student Experience Survey,” which would be inaccessible for evaluators but would give instructors a chance to make adjustments to the course, and then an “End-of-Term Student Experience Survey” to replace the current student course evaluations.

What does this means for students?

Hopefully, the teaching will get even better. Aside from that, if you want to get the scoop on who’s leading your class, a quick trip to RateMyProfessor.com seems to be the preferred method, and we recommend asking a friend as well as a Google search and some Twitter and Facebook stalking for those of you who want a little extra knowledge, and even then, just showing up the first day is sometimes your best bet.