Thursday, December 14, 2006

News: Still Mad About That C-? Time to Get Even

By Liza Minno

When a school’s administration wants to know what’s going on with their professors, they make students fill out teacher evaluations. Students, however, in today’s wiki-fied world, have another option: It is a site made and used by students to, well, rate their professors—in areas such as clarity, easiness, helpfulness and, optionally, physical attractiveness (hotness). Site users can also comment at length on the strengths and weaknesses of their professors.

For those students who don’t have a university-sponsored way to learn about fellow students’ reactions to professors, does the sometimes down-and-dirty trick. And, if nothing else, it’s an entertaining read!

A comment on one professor’s page refers to him as “a real old turd,’” while another calls the instructor in question “the best!” Neither, of course, is objective—or, for that matter, particularly useful, when it comes down to how students will work with a professor.

But most of the comments, it seems, are written in earnest, with some semblance of objectivity, and users of the site say they can prove extremely helpful.

One Lang student, who prefers to remain nameless, cites a foreign study experience (not related to Eugene Lang College) during which she had a male professor who was overly sexual in his classroom comments and inappropriate in interactions with female students, creating a hostile learning environment.

“I went to the [study abroad program’s] administration and asked what this man’s credentials were and they told me that they run extensive background checks on the teachers they hire and that this man was highly recommended by his colleagues," she says. "I really couldn’t believe that this was the first time he’d acted this way in a classroom and so I checked [] and, like, twelve women had written things like ‘ladies be careful,’ ‘if you’re a woman, don’t take his class,’ ‘he’s extremely inappropriate, unprofessional,’ etc. It just confirmed that I wasn’t crazy and also how easy it is for people, even professional people, to bullshit their way into jobs.”

Lang senior Bailey Nolan also feels that the site is a valid way to obtain essential information about the people who students are, essentially, stuck in a classroom with for five months.

“I've used for almost every professor I've had over the last four years and, more often than not, it's completely reliable,” Nolan says. “It's shocking to me that we, as students, can simply visit a Web site and find more honest information than our university administrators'. I know from experience, the Web site is an incredibly valuable tool for students that should be more widely recognized in the academic world.”

Lang College’s Rate My Professors page reviews 110 professors. A Lang student moderates the page. Most professors have somewhere between one and five comments, but some, apparently, provoke stronger reactions, for better or worse. Eleven people, for example, have posted comments about theater professor Colette Brooks, thirteen about education professor Gregory Tewksbury and twenty have commented on philosophy professor Barrie Karp.

Some schools, like NYU, have a similar feature that is available through the school’s official website to aid students during class registration periods.

Ava Holliday, a third year student at NYU, says that she doesn’t really use the school-sponsored rating program and finds that other people generally don’t either. Even though it’s designed to give students an idea about what kind of professor they would be working with, the site, Holliday says, “tends to focus more on the class than the professor.”

She adds, “I find myself asking advisors and professors about a teacher’s personality or teaching style instead of using [NYU’s school-sponsored rating site]."

The New School has nothing of the sort—and often students don't seem to take professor evaluations seriously. But at least there are other, online, interactive and much more entertaining options.

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