If you registered for classes this semester, odds are you spent hours poring over Rate My Professors — a Yelp-like site for college courses where students air grievances, give praise, and everything in between for classes they’ve taken. Maybe you’ve posted a comment to commend an incredible professor or left a nasty comment for an instructor who left you questioning if you really need your college degree. Some comments even offer fashion suggestions.
“I got one of my own that said, ‘Professor Ellis needs to get new ties,’” said Jim Ellis, a business professor and former dean of the Marshall School of Business.
But have you ever wondered what professors thought of the platform?
Some, like writing instructor Antonio Elefano, seem unbothered by the site and recognize it’s not always accurate.
“I don’t think most of us view Rate My Professors as a fair gauge of the quality of our teaching,” said Antonio Elefano, a writing instructor.
Others claim it deeply impacts them.
“I can have 100 students say ‘I loved your class’ and if one person has a problem with it, that’s the only thing I think about,” said Paul Uricoli, a theatre professor at USC School of Dramatic Arts.
He said the last time he checked Rate My Professor was when he worked at NYU in the early 2000s. Urcoli doesn’t want to check Rate My Professors for what he calls a “dopamine hit.”
Other professors also learned to avoid the site.
“Early in my career I did read the ratings but I have not read or checked them in probably 8 years,” said Deborah Sims, a writing instructor at USC. “At some point, I just stopped looking.”
The platform is anonymous, which allows students to express honest thoughts they might not otherwise share if they had their own names attached. Students can post ratings from one to five, share whether they’d take the class again, publicize their grades, and add other details about the professor and the specific course. At USC, there’s even a Google Chrome extension that allows students to view professor ratings as they’re registering for courses, making the metrics unavoidable
“I think for me when I’m signing up it’s 50/50, looking at it religiously and then also getting recommendations from upperclassmen,” said Maya Miro, a business major.
Comments range from praise: “One of the best professors at USC” to warnings: “AVOID AT ALL COSTS!!”
USC’s professors have an average rating of 3.79, not far off from UCLA’s score of 3.76. There are more than 4,000 professors listed under USC’s page with some professors having close to 100 reviews.
For professors, Rate My Professors is somewhere between a superfluous curiosity and a pit of angst and worry that follows them around year after year.
“It can result in some sort of skewed views of professors,” Antonio Elefano said, a professor at Dornsife who also teaches writing. “I have a lot of colleagues who have very few reviews and one or two really bad ones can make those numbers dip down. It’s not really a fair representation of who they are or the quality of their work.”
Elefano said he doesn’t believe the site is designed for professors, rather for students “shopping for classes.”
Elefano said he reads his ratings on Rate My Professors, but when it comes to adjusting his course syllabus, he looks to the end-of-semester learning evaluations required by the university.
Ellis said that there was something educators could gain from the site, as it serves as a way for deans to touch base with professors.
“If we’re looking at someone, as a professor, and we find that there are a lot of very negative rankings of that professor, we’re going to look at that, and we’ll talk with them about it,” Ellis said.
He, and Elefano, find more value in looking at the school-mandated course evaluations and claim they are “essential” for making decisions about professors.
“The vice deans of faculty look at that, the department chairs look at that,” said Ellis. “It’s really important because if we see a trend where students are really commenting about a professor not doing well, we’re either going to figure out how to help them do better in the classroom, or we’re going to have to move them out of that particular classroom.”
He added, “I think it’s a huge mistake when students don’t fill out course evaluations. Huge mistake.”
While Elefano understands why students use the website, he thinks the university’s formal course evaluations are more resourceful. “There’s more depth to the ones that I get in my learning evaluations because the questions are more pointed and they ask specific questions,” he said.
Elefano is not the only professor who values course evaluations over Rate My Professors. Sims also prefers looking at course evaluations and in-person feedback for meaningful comments.
“I think I am anomalous,” she said. “I do think other professors look at Rate My Professor, and I think they look at it on a regular basis and I think they are affected by it. It feels like other people are definitely in it.”
Karen Liebowitz, a painting professor in Roski, said it’s important to take evaluations with a grain of salt, because some students may fill them out when they are upset. Liebowitz, like Elefano, believes the comments posted on sites like Rate My Professors are more about the personality of the professor.
“Every semester when I get to reading the course evaluations, I have to be in a very specific state of mind to go there,” she said. “There are some people that obsessively Google themselves, and I am not that person.”
“I wouldn’t mind if we lived in an internet-free world,” she added.
Veronica Sundin, an international relations major, said that, although both Rate My Professors and USC’s course evaluations are anonymous, students respond differently.
“Some things you obviously wouldn’t say to a professor’s face even if it is anonymous,” she said. “And some things you would be more comfortable putting on the internet, especially because you know that people who are going to see Rate My Professor are your cohorts and peers.”
“You wouldn’t talk to your professor the same way you would talk to your peers,” Sundin said.