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Friday, May 14, 2021

OPINION: Rate My Professors fails to make the grade

Illustration by Nikki Swift
Illustration by Nikki Swift

Humans today are finicky creatures. We want everything to be packaged neatly in its own box, quantified and peer-reviewed. Today we can consult numerous online review sites for nearly anything, from music to restaurants and even professors.

From “top rated teacher at WWU” to “the worst professor I’ve ever been cursed with,” RateMyProfessors.com allows students to play judge, jury and executioner when penning their summaries of entire human beings. And the results aren’t always pretty.

The end game for the site is obvious— tell me which professor’s class I can skate through with ease. The ratings range from the entirely arbitrary “easiness” metric to the absurd “hotness” red chili pepper. Along with these, each professor is given an overall quality total of all reviews, and the raters’ average grades.

We can’t exactly blame students for taking to the interwebs to better prepare themselves for a class, and the sheer number of ratings present on the website shows an obvious interest. But the question is: Is Rate My Professors really the best way?

It’s clear students can really let their true feelings flow on the site, expanding into the issues of academia that truly matter. Such Western gems include: “It’s true that she is blind as a bat, crawls around on tables & howls a lot” or “rude, arrogant, will make your life hell.”

The worry here is that students will take to the site to punish teachers whom they feel personally victimized by, regardless of what the true situation might be.

With opinions flying wildly, professors have little options to defend themselves. Rate My Professors does produce “Professors Read Their Ratings” videos, which are mostly lighthearted segments of faculty reading off funny quips about themselves. These, however, do nothing for the many other teachers on the site.

Another issue at stake is students most likely choose courses based on the relative “easiness” of the teacher, and may very well be cheating themselves out of a hard-earned education. We aren’t here to slide through four years of nap time and grab our diploma on the way out. A little challenge is good for everyone.

Faced with this issue, one solution already exists, and we need only look in-house to implement it — college-administered course evaluations. Currently the end-of-quarter evaluations are whisked away and, if you were listening closely, you’d find that these are available online, if the teacher chooses to publish them.

If these evaluations were released on a quarterly basis and maybe even incorporated into the list of courses offered, then maybe we could inch closer to fair reviews of courses and teachers.

This is the course of action that should be pursued. To quash bad information we must supplant it with good information. The evaluations certainly aren’t perfect, but when compared to the lambasting free-for-all that can occur online, we may as well take the lesser of two evils.

As with anything good in life, moderation and compromise is key. Students assuredly can benefit from learning more about their professors before enrolling, and, in turn, become better consumers of education. But, on the same hand, we very well may be doing ourselves and our teachers a disservice by using bottom of the barrel reviews.

Using what we already have is always the best first step, and making better use of student evaluations only makes sense. Now, if we could only get them to add that “hotness” chili pepper…

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