Hot Website

BY PAMELA FOOHEY

Launched in 1999 as TeacherRatings.com, converted in 2001 to RateMyProfessors.com, sold in 2005, and then resold in January 2007 to a subsidiary of Viacom, RateMyProfessor.com took a few years to develop into the intriguing resource for undergraduate and graduate students it is now.

Currently the site boasts over six million rating for more than half a million professors around the world, including professors of American, Canadian, British, New Zealand, and Australian colleges and universities. All ratings are anonymous: according to RateMyProfessor.com’s privacy policy, it will only reveal users’ personal information under court order or subpoena, which must be a relief to all those law students fond of posting on a certain message board.

Anyone can post a review of a professor; if a certain professor isn’t currently listed, anyone can add him or her. To rate, a user doesn’t even have to register with the site; all she needs to do is enable cookies on her computer. For a review to be posted, a rater must assess the course and the professor on a 1-5 scale in five categories: easiness, helpfulness, clarity, the rater’s interest in the class prior to taking it, and the degree of textbook use in the course.

The overall quality rating attached to a professor is the average of the professor’s helpfulness and clarity ratings. To ease interpretation, a professor’s quality rating is accompanied by a smiley face (good quality), a frowny face (poor quality), or an expressionless face (average quality).

While the premise behind RateMyProfessor.com is intriguing, the ratings may not be all that useful. The most interesting part of the reviews is the chili pepper (or lack thereof) appearing beside a professor’s name. The chili pepper indicates that a professor is “hot,” not in the academic, knowledge-imparting sense, but in the appearance sense. And, of course, the comments are fascinating, albeit not very informative in many cases, leading to the conclusion that there is little reason to think the ratings are very accurate.

The selection bias on such as site must be massive, potentially leading to extreme group polarization. Moreover, there is no guarantee anyone is attempting to accurately represent what they think. There is no way to verify that posting students actually took the course in question, or, even if they were enrolled, went to class.

In fact, a single student conceivably could review a single professor over and over again by using different computers. Overall, students will be much better informed if they consult the class and professor surveys conducting by their schools.

Regardless of usefulness, some of the comments are hilarious, which makes RateMyProfessors.com worthy of the Record’s “hot website” honors.

A selection from reviews of Harvard Law professors:

? David Barron: “He told me that my first baby would be a witch . . . Uncool to say.”

? Robert Clark: “He even sings for you.”

? Alan Dershowitz: “Really open about dating students in the past, which is so creepy.”

? Richard Fallon: “Rockin’!”

? Charles Fried: “Called me out in class. Bad man.”

? Jon Hanson: “People who don’t like Hanson’s Torts class are freaking lame.”

? Bruce Hay: “Crazy. Absolutely crazy. But absolutely brilliant and incredibly entertaining.”

? Randall Kennedy: “I really enjoyed his interactive style and his great wardrobe. I have a really big crush on him to this day.”

? Charles Nesson: “Otherworldly! . . . I’m only sad I didn’t take his class this semester now that poker nights and jamaican parties have become the norm.”

? David Shapiro: “Definitely a tax nerd!”

? Laurence Tribe: “Looks like Mel Gibson.”

? Elizabeth Warren: “Inimitable.”

? Jonathan Zittrain: “I’m on the Zittrain! Love that stuff! I’m on the Zittrain! And I can never get enough!”

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