Professor ratings aid students in class selection

RateMyProfessors.com offers students the chance to rate professors’ easiness, helpfulness and clarity.

Students who procrastinate by browsing the Internet instead of doing homework may actually be helping their grades — if they’re looking up their professors. According to a study released Tuesday, 46 percent of students surveyed about their use of RateMyProfessors.com and similar sites were shown to be influenced by how potential professors’ “easiness” was rated. This, in turn, may correlate with a study by a Duke University professor that showed GPA inflation of 2.93 to 3.11 from 1991 to 2006, said Russell Schaffer, spokesman for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, which administered the survey. “That either means that students have either gotten a lot smarter in the past 15 years,” Schaffer said, “or something else is going on.” It is not clear whether the increase is because professors are grading easier in response to the site or if the site is causing easier classes to fill up more, he said. “It’s possible that some untenured faculty members fear that student evaluations could hurt the evaluations of their teaching when they come up for tenure,” political science professor Kathryn Sikkink said. Sikkink is one of the toughest graders, according to RateMyProfessors.com, with a rating of 1.7 out of five on the easiness scale. She has heard there is quantitative evidence of a correlation between high professor evaluations and easy grading. For some University of Minnesota students, such ratings aren’t important, because there is little choice of different professors. “For us it’s like, ‘You have to take this class, and this is the guy who teaches it,’ ” aerospace engineering junior Luke Bohnen said. Fellow Institute of Technology student Tony Price agreed. “It’s pretty much set up,” he said. However, Price did say that because some specific classes are only offered once a year, he knows IT students who have waited a year to take a class with a professor more to their liking. RateMyProfessors.com offers students the chance to rate professors’ easiness, helpfulness and clarity. “Students have freedom of speech and they get to say whatever they want to say,” Sikkink said. This does not bother her, though. “I pride myself in having high standards,” she said, adding that she simply follows the University’s grading criteria. “ ‘A’ means ‘outstanding’; it doesn’t mean ‘good enough,’ ” she said, echoing what she often tells students. Three percent of those surveyed said a professor’s hotness rating played a role in their decision to enroll in a certain class; Schaffer said this might be because attractive teachers are more engaging. A 2003 study from the University of Texas showed “better-looking teachers got rated better because they were able to hold students’ attention longer,” Schaffer said. Some of the data on the sites may be skewed by extreme reviews, Schaffer said, citing that only 8 percent of students surveyed said they use the site to write a review. “You might see some comments that are very extreme one way or the other,” he said. “Often it’s some sort of experience, whether a positive or a negative, that’s going to be a catalyst to go on a site like this.” First-year Brittany McNab said she has not used the site, but she said she suspects most students use it to find easy graders, especially for liberal education requirements for which many different sections and professors are offered. Bohnen said this is common for IT students as well, as they will take professors’ easy ratings into account for the requirements that offer numerous sections and professors.