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Students rate 'hot' professors on Web

Published: Monday, November 24, 2003

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Out of all the flattering adjectives used to describe professor James O'Toole of the history department on RateMyProfessors.com - "brilliant, articulate, scholarly, yet funny too" according to one evaluation - the term that would catch any visitor's eye came next on the list: "hotty."

At RateMyProfessors. com, launched in 1999 by John Swapceinski, a then-disgruntled San Jose State University graduate, college students are given a forum to both commend and condemn their instructors' clarity, easiness, and helpfulness. Now, with the help of a chili pepper icon, professors can be labeled "hot" as well, so long as more students deem them attractive than unattractive.

Boston College currently has 15 active faculty members with chili peppers next to their names, and several of them, all of whose responses came via e-mail, revealed their reservations about trusting a site where the quality of education may no longer be in the spotlight.

"I think you can tell in many of the online evaluations what a student's attitude is toward education generally," said Kerry Cronin of the philosophy department. "Unfortunately, too many evaluations expose those students who think teaching is mostly about who can entertain me and keep me awake rather than seeing teaching as an introduction to the life of the mind."

Of course, merely discussing any aspect of a site such as RateMyProfessors.com brings up the significance of teacher evaluation sites on the whole.

"In general, I believe very strongly in student evaluation of courses and professors - professors can think they're doing a good job, but maybe they're not," said O'Toole, who admitted that the aforementioned praise of his teaching came as a practical joke from an old colleague.

"The problem with sites like [RateMyProfessors.com] is that they're completely random; one person who either loved or hated a course could set the evaluation, even if everybody else in the class thought exactly the opposite," he continued

With only 73 listings for BC in the RateMyProfessors.com database, several professors questioned the helpfulness of such a nationally-based site, which boasts a half-million evaluations of 113,000 professors at more than 2,400 schools in the United States and Canada.

"Are any students going to make meaningful decisions on this type of national site? I don't think so," said William O'Keefe, Advancing Studies faculty member and another "hot" professor. "If one could look at a greater number of evaluations of the courses and the professors, it could be more meaningful. The site's main function is still advertising."

In addition, with the Undergraduate Government of BC's Professor Evaluation Profiles (PEPs) available with nearly every BC professor listed in its records, many within BC simply do not see the purpose in trusting an outside source in assessing teachers.

"I suspect that in-house evaluations, like BC's PEPs, are a better forum than a national web site," said Cronin.

What PEPs lack, however, are the chili peppers.

"Of course, it is nice to know your students like you," said Zhifeng Ren, a professor in the physics department. "On the other hand, I would feel bad if I were not rated well."

Ned Rosen, a mathematics professor, remarked, "There are problems with the self-selected, and somewhat small, samples in these surveys," making his comments only after categorizing his own 100 percent attractiveness rating as "giga-hot," "sweltering," and "Carney Hall in July."

Most of the "hot" professors modestly renounced their attractive statuses. Cronin said, "The person must have meant to check off 'not,'" seemingly forgetting her own 100 percent beauty, according to the website.

O'Toole commented just as humbly, "Conceivably, I could post glowing evaluations of myself - though I'd probably leave out the 'hot' part if I did."

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