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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Posted: May 27, 2014 4:21 PM
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att1.html (9.3 K)

NOTE: You might want to take a look at the webpage of Kenneth
Westhues that deals authoritatively and extensively with mobbing in
academe -- See and
From The Record (Kitchener, Ontario, Canada), September 7, 2004. See

By Kenneth Westhues, University of Waterloo

How would you like a job where everybody you work with is allowed to
rate your performance from 1 to 5, add a pungent comment about your
strengths or weaknesses, and post it all on a public bulletin board?

I mean everybody, not just your boss and co-workers, but the people
who report to you.

Postings are not required. The people who take time to write them
tend to be those with strong feelings about you. They identify you by
name, but are themselves anonymous.

One other thing: The bulletin board covered with their opinions about
you is miraculously placed where the whole world can see, including
your son, mother-in-law, ex-husband, nosy neighbour and prospective
future employer.

This is the real world in which professors work today.

The reason is a website called, begun in 1999 by
a whiz kid named John Swapceinski in California's Silicon Valley.
Easily and quickly, anybody with web access can rate and comment on
any professor in the United States or Canada. Results are available
worldwide by a few clicks of a mouse.

The site has become a hit, especially in large, mass-market
universities. It has grown exponentially from 11,000 ratings for
3,500 professors in 2001, to two million ratings for 400,000
professors in mid-2004.

Among all institutions on this continent, the University of Waterloo
ranks sixth in popularity of this website, with 21,000 ratings for
1,500 faculty. Guelph has 8,000 ratings for 850 faculty. Wilfrid
Laurier has 7,000 ratings for 650 faculty. For Conestoga College,
there are 1,300 ratings for 200 faculty.

Generally, professors have tried to make the website go away. Many
insist they have never looked at it. Others lambaste it in print
media as biased, dangerous, frightening, unhelpful, worthless and of
only entertainment value. A few try to sabotage it. About one
professor a week threatens a lawsuit, according to Swapceinski.

But ratemyprofessors is unlikely to go away. It has flourished from
the grass roots because it lets students do what was possible before
only by washroom graffiti: say exactly what they think of professors
they have had and get the lowdown in advance on other ones. To judge
by current statistics, the website has passed a tipping point and
will snowball further.

From my study of the website over the past year, here are five things
that students, faculty, relatives, nosy neighbours and prospective
employers should keep in mind.

First, since dimwits exist among students as well as faculty
(possibly in greater proportion), a certain percentage of evaluations
for any professor are noise. Maybe the harshest number five per cent,
maybe the kindest 10 per cent. There is no way to tell which ratings
come from bright, hard-working students and which ones from insolent

Second, multiple positive or negative appraisals of a professor may
all have been posted by a single rater. Cookies and filters are in
place to prevent this, but there are ways around them. A determined
handful of malicious raters, or even just one, can put a professor's
ratings in the cellar. One industrious groupie can send the ratings
sky high.

Third, a rater need not have taken a course from the professor. A
given evaluation may reflect an off-campus lover's adulation or an
ex-lover's spite. There is no way to tell.

Fourth, institutions vary in how carefully comments are monitored.
Swapceinski tries to have a site administrator on each campus to
screen out the more imaginative hateful jibes that filters miss. Some
of these local volunteers take their jobs seriously. Others do not.
All are anonymous.
Fifth, despite all these possibilities of error and abuse, the bulk
of postings to the site are the plain, unvarnished sentiments of
ordinary students who have taken the courses identified and posted
just one rating per course.

If I were a student, would I check a professor's page on
ratemyprofessors before enrolling in his or her course? Sure. The
website is an aid for choosing courses wisely. I would study the
evaluations critically, aware that some may be ill-founded or fake. I
would try to guess from the comments what kind of student the
professor and course seem to satisfy, and see if I fit the bill.

While giving the website profile cautious respect, I would place more
trust in the views of friends who have studied with the professor in
question. I would also scrutinize course outlines.

In sum, I would treat the website as thousands of real students do,
as one among several sources of information to help decide which
courses to take.

At the same time, as a professor who has studied the website in
detail, I oppose any formal use being made of it. I alerted the UW
administration earlier this year to the unreliability of for any official purpose, despite the site
administrators' diligent efforts to prevent abuse of it, and even
though the vast majority of postings are honest and well-intentioned.
The risk is simply too high of making wrong decisions about
professors' careers and livelihoods. Clever people abound in
universities, and this website is too vulnerable to untruthful
cleverness. In the case of a tenure candidate, for instance, the deck
on this website can too easily be stacked for or against.

For decisions about tenure, promotion and salary, deans and
department chairs should instead rely on course evaluations
administered in class at the end of term. These are standard
procedure at UW, as in most universities. The professor leaves the
classroom when students fill out the forms. The results have more
claim to validity than results on ratemyprofessors.

Even so, for most professors, the website results conform closely to
those obtained on in-class questionnaires. The big difference is that
the website is public and easily accessible. As its popularity grows,
professors and administrators will find it steadily harder to ignore
student opinion in decisions about professors' careers.

The unyielding presence of ratemyprofessors may also induce
universities and colleges to publish the results of in-class
questionnaires on their own websites. The University of Western
Ontario already does this with numerical ratings, but without any

Meanwhile, people in other lines of work should not gloat over the
painfully public evaluation professors are now subjected to. The
technology that spawned ratemyprofessors has endless possibilities.

Swapceinski himself runs a parallel site for teachers at lower
levels. Iludes hundreds of ratings for teachers in nearly all the
high schools of Waterlt incoo Region.

Ratemydoctor is next, Swapceinski says.

For better or worse, anybody identifiable by name in any occupation
may soon be subject to evaluation on the web by anonymous fans and
detractors. We might as well get used to it.
Kenneth Westhues is a sociology professor at the University of
Waterloo and a winner of its distinguished teacher award. Summary:
"The site has become a hit. . . . It has grown exponentially . . . to
two million ratings for 400,000 professors in mid-2004. " Photo:
See for careful comparison of
in-class student evaluatons with those on ratemyprofessors. The study
is by Theodore Coladarci and Irv Kornfield of the University of
Maine. Or see
for the summary of their project in insidehighered

See for an account and
analysis of the dismissal of a prominent mathematics professor in
2006, for having posted fake ratings of colleagues on

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