Oswego State student Kevin Farrell said he keeps three Internet windows open on his laptop while preparing for class registration: the list of available courses, his CAPP report and RateMyProfessors.com.
RateMyProfessors.com is a social media network that allows students to anonymously post ratings of professors, which are searchable by the professor’s name or through a directory organized by school. The professors are ranked one through five in easiness, helpfulness, clarity and the student’s interest level in the subject before entering the class. The professors are given an overall score which is the average of their helpfulness and clarity scores. The website also allows students to leave comments about the professor and the course.
“It can give you at least an idea of what the professor and course will be like before you register for it,” said Farrell, a junior marketing major. “It helps make it at least a little less stressful.”
The website, which is owned by mtvU and not accredited by Oswego State or any national education organization, says on its website that it has pages for 7,500 schools and over 14 million ratings. Oswego State has ratings for 890 professors. When a professor leaves the school, they are not removed from the database, leaving multiple names on the index that are no longer faculty at the university.
Students are responsible for creating and maintaining the professor’s pages. Oswego State professors have an average rating of 3.65. This rating was similar to those at other SUNY schools. SUNY Geneseo professors have an average ranking of 3.57 while the College at Brockport and SUNY Cortland professors each had average rankings of 3.68. The average ratings score for a university’s professors on the website accounts for 25 percent of a school’s rating in Forbes annual “America’s Best Colleges” list.
Nathan Emmons, who oversees the Oswego State first-year peer advisement program, said the website is not discussed during the training of peer advisors. Emmons said he tells students to keep their own opinions about professors in check when advising their freshman students.
“Just because one student feels as though they were not very successful with a professor doesn’t mean all students will have the same experience is my general message,” Emmons said.
Emmons said he has only seen the website once, but, while acknowledging it could have some benefits to students, he believes the anonymity the website allows makes it unreliable.
“Unless you really know the person that is posting, you don’t know all the facts related to their experience,” Emmons said. Emmons added that factors such as a student’s work ethic and level of engagement can impact the rating of a professor.
Gary Ritzenthaler, an Oswego State professor of journalism and new media, said that while he has no issue with the concept of the ratings website, he has problems with the way students use it.
“I think it can be useful if students treat it with skepticism and understand that there’s no way of knowing why a person says what they say,” Ritzenthaler said.
Oswego State students have continued to use the website consistently, with multiple professors having over 100 separate ratings.
“I always check it before I register for a class, but I take everything with a grain of salt,” said Shannon Stewart, sophomore journalism major. Stewart added that students are more likely to post when they feel strongly about a professor.
“I never see any posts unless people either hate a professor or adore a professor,” Stewart said.
Of the 10 professors with the most total ratings, only three have ratings above 3.0 in overall quality on the 0-5 scale. Ritzenthaler said that a professor’s rating can be driven down by just a few negative comments.
“If a professor teaches a hundred students a semester and gets two to three bad ratings, that’s actually a pretty good record,” Ritzenthaler said.
Freshman Lily Choi said that the ratings of a professor are likely to be driven by the course itself. Choi said she is currently in a class with a professor who has low ratings on the website.
“It just happens to be a boring class, therefore it’s hard to follow what my professor is saying sometimes, but I don’t necessarily think that makes them a bad professor,” Choi said. “Some professors could also get better ratings just because they give less work or something that’s not necessarily a reflection of their teaching.”
RateMyProfessor.com has recently added a section where professors can reply back to their student reviews. Oswego State has yet to have a professor post a rebuttal.
“It would be cool to see a reply back,” Farrell said. “If people are going to post things about them on the website, the professors should have a chance to be heard too.”