On the Web, students pass and fail their professors

One site claims students nationwide add 3,000 instructor ratings each day.

Kristin Frey

Students receive scores of grades from teachers throughout their years of education. But a rash of Web sites is turning the tables on the teacher-student dynamic by allowing students to do the grading.

Web sites such as www.ratemyprofessors.com allow college students to evaluate their professors – including hundreds from the University – and are gaining popularity on campuses across the country.

Some Web sites offer anonymous outlets for students to rate their professors by several characteristics.

Ratemyprofessors.com, for example, rates professors and their performances on a one-to-five scale for easiness, helpfulness and clarity.

Visitors to the site – approximately 20,000 daily – can then read the comments left by students and make their own decisions about the professors’ abilities, said John Swapceinski, the site’s founder.

Swapceinski said he created the Web site in 1991 as a frustrated San Jose State University student who wanted to warn others about a professor.

More than a decade later, professors from 3,767 North American colleges are ranked on his site. Approximately 3,000 new professor ratings are added each day, he said.

Professor ratings range from the good to the ugly.

In one comment, a University student called journalism professor Gary Schwitzer a “madman about health journalism.”

Schwitzer agreed.

“I am very passionate of improving the state of health journalism,” he said. “I am glad I reached that person.”

Edward Farmer, a University history professor, was also evaluated online. One student said that Farmer was the only professor he knew “who was applauded after his lecture the last day of class.”

Although Farmer had not checked the Web site, he said he would take some of the ratings to heart when it came to establishing curriculum.

“If people complain too much about something, I will generally change it unless I think it’s very important; then they would just have to suffer through it,” he said.

Schwitzer said the more extensive and honest online evaluations might be more worthwhile than their in-class counterparts, which the University conducts at the end of each semester.

“Maybe if there was more evaluation done in the classroom, maybe there wouldn’t be a need for these external Web sites or evaluations,” Schwitzer said.

Besides, he said, “It just expands the tools in the tool bag.”

University architecture junior Kyle McMahon said although he has never used a professor rating Web site, he saw it as a convenient way to learn about classes at the University.

“I would check it out,” he said. “But I’d probably only go there if I thought the professor was really good or really bad.”