RateMyProfessors dropped the chili pepper—and that’s not such a bad thing


Kernel Opinion SIG

Clark Demaree

Last week, BethAnn McLaughlin, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University asked RateMyProfessors.com via tweet to remove the chili pepper feature from professor evaluations—and they did it.

The site’s operators removed the feature which allowed students to identify a professor as “hot” and counted toward a “hotness” rating for professors.

I had my own experience with Rate My Professors last week as well. Right now, I’m in the middle of what is probably my last class ever at UK. Over the past month, I have been selecting classes for graduate school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. I haven’t set foot on UMBC’s campus in over three years.

Naturally, my interactions with their faculty have been limited which makes selecting courses difficult. Class experiences go well beyond what is in their course descriptions. As a result, Rate My Professors is a strong tool that I use for learning about some of the human aspects of classes. Like course descriptions and syllabi though, evaluations on RateMyProfessors.com cannot tell the full story.

The chili pepper issue is representative of some of the dangers of Rate My Professors. Although the site has legitimate uses, it is also used for entertainment at the expense of faculty and the university community. Entertainment is the reason that students enjoy giving “hotness” ratings and reading and writing colorfully negative reviews. Because of this RateMyProfessors.com often supports a cruel, sexist and negative perspective in student communities and can often undermine respect for faculty members, especially women. While removing the chili pepper feature may in part ameliorate this problem, students as individuals ultimately have to take responsibility for our own civility and incivility.

Rate My Professors limits a student’s entire experience with a professor to a few dozen words and two numbers. For a reader, this reduction creates a challenge from an interpretation standpoint because no single review or even set of several reviews can provide a complete understanding.

It has been confirmed that even when teaching identical courses, female professors tend to receive lower ratings. In addition to being a symptom and a source of sexism in the academic environment, this trend makes comparing professors using the site much more complicated than simply comparing their numerical ratings. In addition, there are other likely sources of bias in evaluations including the professor’s age, whether they are teaching intro courses or advanced ones, the quality of their TA, and even their perceived “hotness”. Students can be vindictive, shortsighted, and bitter which needs to be taken into account when analyzing their evaluations of professors.

When anybody spreads or believes cruel or misleading information about members of our community, we all lose. While this unique forum for supporting a better understanding of and interaction with the faculty has value, that value only comes when the students and other members of the university community use it cautiously, responsibly and with an understanding of its nuance.

Clark Demaree is a UK student with a bachelors of science in electrical engineering.

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