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Published: Thursday, 2/2/2006

Prof ratings by students teach plenty

Trading opinions about college professors was once reserved for students' idle campus chatter. These days, naturally, it has its own Web site. And I guess, depending on their popularity, college profs regard RateMyProfessors.com - which covers institutions across the country - as either a revenge-fest for poor performing students or a love-in for those with a serious professor-worship complex.

Take Glen Biglaiser, for example. The Bowling Green State University political scientist comes in at a very respectable "overall quality" ranking of 4.8 out of a possible 5.0. Says the most recent of Mr. Biglaiser's student raters:

"I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE GLEN!!!! He is such a nice person, and LOVES what he does. He is a great teacher, and gets so excited about what he is teaching. The class was SOOOO cool, too. It was interesting, and I learned a lot, too. It's not that hard either."

Oh, and did I mention he's also considered, um, a hottie?

"THE BEST PROFESSOR! If only other professors could attend Glen's class, they would know what teaching is all about. He is fantastic; passionate about teaching and makes class a fun experience. Finally, he is HOT! Could sit in his class forever and not get bored. GLEN ROCKS!!"

Professors are rated on their "clarity" and "helpfulness" - the averages of which yield their "overall quality." These rankings are expressed numerically, but also with (Lord help us) color-coded smiley faces.

A cheery yellow face with a big smile means thumbs up. A lime-green, unsmiling face means someone who's average. And anyone who gets a blue frowny face - ooh, not good.

But wait! Students may note their Wisdom Providers' good looks, which they do with a red-hot chili pepper.

At BG, looks count - maybe more so than at the University of Toledo. Of BG's top 90 professors who all earn 5.0, half of them also snared that (coveted?) chili pepper. But for UT's top 90 high-quality profs, only 32 percent were considered hotties.

Then again (and I almost hate to say this), consider the source.

One UT professor was awarded chili peppers by students who thought she looked pretty good for "a middle-aged woman" who'd "had children."

Interestingly (if perhaps unsurprisingly), there did seem to be correlation between high-ranking and "nice" and/or "easy" teachers.

That, of course, is one problem with letting students judge teachers: Their comments sometimes reveal more about them than their instructors.

Arthur Samel, for example, of BGSU's geography department, earned a neutral smiley face. But this prof (nickname: "the weather Nazi") does appear to actually teach his sometimes grudging students.

He's either "a jerk," "awesome," "very professional," or "the funniest teacher," among other things. Maybe Mr. Samel can be summarized by this student commentary, which is best read between the lines: "I suppose you can learn a lot, but it's not easy, and you have to be willing to spend a lot of time on the class. ... I would never in my life have him for class again."

Ah, but Mr. Samel, you and your peers have recourse - and naturally, it's a Web site: RateYourStudents.blogspot.com.



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