The popular online professor ratings site, ratemyprofessors.com, has been eliciting some fiery responses to what professors see as the accountability-undermining anonymity of online technology. The subsidiary mtvU of MTV Networks, owner of ratemyprofessors.com, hosts the “Professors Strike Back” series in which professors “rebut” the anonymous and often insulting comments left on the ratings website. A 24-hour channel, mtvU broadcasts to 750 campuses and over 7.5 million students.
Throughout the series, many professors decried the ratings website as promoting non-constructive venting which often occurs in the heat of the moment and reflects the difficulty of the course rather than professors’ pedagogical ability. “The worst thing about ratemyprofessors.com is that there is no quality control and any disgruntled student can go there and say whatever he or she pleases,” said Boston University Professor Sassan Tabatabai. He also argued that the “the type of student who leave negative remarks about the professors on ratemyprofessors.com are the real s— heads.”
“I guess this is the downside with the anonymity issue. They have a beef and they’re looking for a forum to present it and maybe it’s not the best place,”
Professor Laura Shinn of Temple University. Having reviewed the site in the past, Shinn says she changed her teaching style in response to some negative comments but maintains that it is much more constructive if the offended student approaches the department chair or instructor.
“So when you see a negative comment take with some grain of salts [sic], and balance it out with positive comments, and then you will definitely get the best benefit from this website,” argued Professor Jeff Hong. A professor at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, Hong responded to the accusation that he is “not a fair grader unless u cuss him out” by pointing out that bad grades are determined largely by student effort. “All of the factors that go into the grading comes [sic] from you, not from my personal judgment. So, if you are saying that then you did really bad and you got a bad grade—and that’s fair,” he said.
Lies, All Lies?
A common thread among the responses was that ratemyprofessors.com contains biased and untrue statements made by immature and unaccountable students, yet the submitted videos themselves display a lot of unprofessional behavior. The show features angry professors swearing, wearing bunny suits for humorous effect, sarcasm, and egotism.
• Professor Tabatabai rebutted a comment which accused him of being “absolutely worthless as a professor” by calling the poster worthless as well. “Worthless as a professor. That’s probably something you should take up with the administration. Chances are you were worthless as a student, and that’s why you think I’m worthless as a professor,” said Tabatabai.
• Teaching Assistant Joshua Beall of Rutgers University at New Brunswick (RUNB) was accused of being condescending toward students. He
responded “I’m condescending? Well of course I’m condescending. You’re only an undergraduate.” He said that students “transition into an adult by taking on [their] professors and beating them.”
• Professor David Linton of Marymount Manhattan College objects to the comment that he is “so pompous…we know you think your brain is as big as your hair.” He responded, “Get over it. So I, so I have hair. I’ve reached the ripe old age of having taught for forty years and I still have it. That’s okay with me. And one of the phrases that happened to be in common use when I grew grew up was ‘If you’ve got it, flaunt it.’ There you go.”
Some professors seemed to think that ridiculing students for stupid answers or for inadequate performance is acceptable professional behavior.
• Professor Terence Oliva of Temple University was accused of “calling somebody stupid all day” and acting as though it was funny. He responded, “That’s probably true, because they probably said something that was absolutely insane. These are supposed to be graduating seniors. One would expect that they aren’t going to [submit] stupid answers.” He added, “There may be incorrect answers, but things that are just absolutely insane, I tell them I’m not going to let them fly.”
• Professor Karl Idsvoog creatively responded to allegations of promoting amphetamine use. “I certainly don’t have to encourage you to use amphetamines to get more work done. Have you looked in the mirror? Look at your own eyes. What the heck are you taking?,” said the professor from Kent State University. “If you can’t take a direct question, well you’re in the wrong place. You don’t deserve to be at the university,” he said in response to a comment calling him a “rude, disrespectful, pretentious, snob.”
• Professor Linton responded to an accusation that he “mocks and provokes his students” by saying “I’m really sorry that anything I said to you made you come away thinking with the feeling that I was less than respectful and mocking you. I’m sorry to hear that.”
Absentia or Self-Reliance?
Another common thread within the series was that students should reclaim responsibility for their own educational success instead of relying on professors to “babysit” their education. “We’re not there to babysit, we’re there to train professionals,” said Professor Idsvoog. Professor Linton said, “We want you to work hard, and if you do you’ll make us work hard. If you write a longer paper with more ideas, we have to read it, and therefore we’re working harder.” “That’s why this is different from other consumer experiences you have,” he added.
Professor Natalie Jeremijenko of New York University responded to comments that she was “too preoccupied with her own projects” and “too scatter brained [sic]” by asserting that many of students’ requests are “not a good use of my time.” “On the idea that I’m scatterbrained. I have a shield of busyness that I actually erect to mitigate students approaching me and thinking that I’m available to spend a long time talking about their particular problems or medical certificates, etcetera,” she said. “So it’s a shield that I use instead of being rude,” she concluded.
Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.