If you’re a college student in 2023, you’ve probably heard of the increasingly popular website Rate My Professors. The site is designed to allow students from universities across the country to rate their professors on a one-to-five scale, followed by a written review that details qualities such as level of difficulty, emphasis on attendance and more. As an essential tool during course registration, this site’s abundance of ratings makes it a popular topic of conversation and a commonly used tool in making class decisions.
This site, however, may be doing more harm than good. In evaluating the structure of the site and what function it serves, it’s essential to consider its morality. Dehumanizing and rating people has been at the center of many dystopian portrayals of society (such as this “Black Mirror” episode). Professors, who are complex, are being diminished to a numerical value, which is posted publicly for anyone to see. Due to the nature of the ratings, students who have personal conflicts with professors can use the site to villainize them in an unfair way. Considering that the site doesn’t take any measures to verify that the reviewer is actually a student, anyone has the ability to review a professor. Additionally, the lack of monitoring allows biases to influence ratings. A study shows how women in difficult areas of study are more heavily reviewed and more negatively reviewed than men and teachers in easy subjects, suggesting that women in these subjects are more harshly judged.
As students, different teaching styles have varying positive and negative effects on each of us. Some people prefer a professor who is more animated and conversational, while others prefer professors who are straight to the point. Just as some students prefer more homework-heavy classes, some students prefer exams and preparing for those exams as their main way of learning. When someone posts a negative rating for a professor, that student’s critiques of the professor’s teaching style could be the exact reason another student would thrive in their class. Due to the vague nature of the reviewing system on Rate My Professors, this personal preference could lead to the professor getting a bad review, consequently turning students who could have done well in their class away. Additionally, negative attitudes surrounding a class can create more negative student performance. This means that when people approach a professor’s class with a negative attitude due to a poor Rate My Professors rating, they will invest less effort and not perform as well in the class. By forming preconceived notions about the quality of instruction, students can inhibit their ability to truly get the most out of the material and the instruction, which can hurt them later on in their academic careers.
The lack of reviews per professor compared to the site traffic can also create inaccurate perceptions of professors. There are about 19 million ratings for about 1.7 million professors, meaning an average of about 11 ratings per professor. Professors with fewer reviews are undoubtedly skewed, obliterating any objective value these data may offer. Many of these professors teach hundreds of students per year, so an evaluation based off of around 11 reviews leads the value of these reviews to be extremely inflated.
It’s important to acknowledge, however, that Rate My Professors can be a very helpful tool for trying to choose the best class section during registration. For one, it can help determine outlier professors, such as extremely engaging and helpful professors, or unusually bad and unproductive professors. Since there are no student review sites that are as widely used, through Rate My Professors, students can gain valuable insight about not only the professors, but also the classes they are about to take.
Considering the helpful experience-based perspectives students gain through the site, the ideal platform for classroom evaluations would be Rate My Class. Platforms such as Atlas exist to give students information about their classes, but are notably missing student reviews. One of the most important parts of learning about a class is student testimony, so a platform incorporating it would be beneficial. This platform would help curb the bias of different teaching style preferences, while not eliminating it entirely, by centering the critique on the class instead of the person teaching that class. This would force students to focus on actual class qualities, such as content and structure. Feedback on professors could still be incorporated into reviews (as all professors don’t teach in the same way), but they wouldn’t have to be at the forefront of the evaluation. Instead, students should review their experience of the class given the professor they had. This tool would be more helpful in helping students learn the general structure of the lectures, workload and tests.
In a society trademarked by its emphasis on criticizing others, it’s time we start prioritizing constructive evaluations of classes over unsubstantiated criticism of professors. Rate My Professors is immoral, allows for bias and provides highly inflated (and therefore often inaccurate) reviews of professors that can discourage people from taking classes they otherwise would have enjoyed. Although there’s no doubt that students need advice from their peers to make the most successful decisions around class registration, doing this through rating classes would provide much more efficient guidance. By focusing student testimony toward classes and their experiences in them, we can create a much more effective learning environment and make more thoughtful decisions during class registration.
Claudia Flynn is an Opinion Columnist & can be reached at email@example.com.