How Well Does ‘Rate My Professors’ Rate?

Janice Fiamengo:

“I fell asleep often.” This is an anonymous comment by a student on the website “Rate My Professors,” where instructors are ranked as “Good Quality,” “Average Quality,” and “Poor Quality,” with anecdotal assessments included. The comment by the sleepy student is not an admission of ill-preparedness, a confession of intellectual laziness, or even simply an acknowledgement of too many nights at the pub. It is a self-evident accusation: the professor who can’t keep this student awake is a dull fellow, and other students should beware.
As anyone knows who has checked this public site, Rate My Professors is full of such accusations against professors — for being boring, overly demanding, or ungenerous about marks or deadlines. “He means well but his grading is very hard on students,” reads one such complaint, with the implication produced by the ambiguous wording that low marks are an unjust hardship. Professors are frequently castigated for sins of “over-intellectualizing,” “droning on about versification,” and — a frequent lament — having “unreasonable expectations.” One instructor is “not very personable” while another “does not give students the opportunity to excel.” Another prof “makes such meticulous effort to choose her vocabulary that much of her lecture loses all meaning.” The same commentator warns, in explanation of a “Poor Quality” ranking, “Be prepared to listen HARD and think.”