BY JONATHAN COOK
Professors are almost always aware that their reputations hinge on informal conversations between past and present students. Few probably predicted that the advent of Internet communication would create a formalized rating system where students can publicly criticize or praise them on their helpfulness, clarity, the ease of their class and even, physical attractiveness.
The website, http://www.ratemyprofessors.com, is a popular forum where students get to know their professors before meeting them in person through brief, anonymous user reviews and ratings for each of the four categories on a scale from one to five.
Professor Jefferson Cartano, a physics and engineering professor at CCM, said professors should be open to both good and bad feedback.
“I’d rather have a lot of negative feedback than nothing at all,” Cartano said. “As long as it’s said in a professional and respectful way.”
Cartano said he does not have an issue with the fundamentals of the site overall, but he expressed concern about it affecting enrollment and possibly being used as a reference in authoritative decisions such as salaries and employment termination.
For some students, however, the concerns of professors do not outweigh the site’s benefits.
Matt Kelly, a mechanical engineering technology major at CCM, said he sees the site as mostly “honest” in the reviews he read. He said he once was persuaded to take a class based on other people’s judgments.
“For the most part, I found the reviews to be decent,” Kelly said. “But just like all online reviews, they can be plagued by tons of people suddenly all going online at once to try to change what the global opinion is on someone.”
Kelly views the potential unfairness in one-sided discussions about professors who can, but usually, do not respond to unwarranted criticism. However, he also said there are risks for students trying to pick the right class.
“For somebody who has to give an investment of actual money and time to get a class they may or may not pass depending on their ability to understand a professor, it’s very important to have an idea if you’re going to be able to work with them or not,” Kelly said.
Kelly suggested that finding a professor that is “no nonsense and all equations” is helpful for “technical” courses such as math, but knowing a professor is “fun to be around” is better for classes like philosophy.
Kevin Carmenlengo, a student here at CCM, uses the site differently than Kelly as he does not become dissuaded or persuaded to enroll in a class after reading reviews.
“Sometimes I go back on the site to see if anyone picked up on things about the professor that I did,” Carmenlengo said. “So it’s kind of like checking to see if anyone thinks the way I do.”
Carmenlengo expressed the same sentiments as Cartano, believing the site can be a practical tool for teachers to connect with students’ hidden opinions.
“If I was a teacher, I would look at it to see how the students think and work around that.” Carmenlengo said.