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I am wondering if a professor is already an Associate Professor, do they still care about their reputation in the eyes of the department considering tenureship is already granted?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ff524 Dec 26 '17 at 3:19
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I occasionally check RateMyProfessor, and I do care (a little) about what students say: my feelings are hurt by negative comments, and I am encouraged by positive ones. I know some people who do the same; others never check the site at all.

However, these ratings are never taken seriously as an evaluation of effective teaching. I have never heard them seriously discussed in any hiring, tenure, or promotion meetings. Anyone who brought them up would likely provoke a very negative reaction from their colleagues.

Why is the site not taken seriously? My negative reviews include the following:

  • "The amount of homework was unreal. I spent on average, 5 hours a week on this homework, which is also graded on correctness."

  • "Only take this class if... you like learning on your own."

  • "He is a really tough grader and will take off points for little things (i.e. forgetting an equals sign)."

  • "He... marks off on tests if he doesn't know how you got an answer."

  • "Also, the homework is graded on accuracy not completion..."

If my colleagues cared at all, they would see these reviews as positive.

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    Students complaining about homework "graded on accuracy not completion" is about the single saddest thing I've seen today. – AJK Dec 24 '17 at 0:34
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    "Only take this class if... you like learning on your own." This varies depending on what level of education you're thinking about. In Britain at least, primary and secondary education are about learning things in class and not 'on your own'. – Pharap Dec 24 '17 at 3:08
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    @Pharap: My reading of that sentence was, "taking his class won't help you learn [i.e. it's equivalent to studying on your own without his help]", which could apply at any level of education. – Mehrdad Dec 24 '17 at 12:06
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    "However, these ratings are never taken seriously as an evaluation of effective teaching." -- PSA for students: If you want to provide suggestions for your professors, don't phrase it like an angry performance review; the angry rant + "failing grade" some people give professors is at best cathartic for them but not likely to help anyone (including future students). If you want to suggest things, phrase it more like "I have an idea about X that might help, what do you think?" – jrh Dec 24 '17 at 19:01
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    Concerning "take off points for little things (i.e. forgetting an equals sign)": I suggest that we start taking off points for confusing "i.e." with "e.g." – Andreas Blass Nov 18 '18 at 2:16
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I did my master’s capstone project on "The Effectiveness of Online Evaluations" at California State University, Monterey Bay. I was also the administrator of online evaluations for faculty at CSUMB, and in addition to being full-time staff as an analyst/programmer, I was also adjunct faculty teaching computer science.

For the faculty RTP (retention, tenure, and promotion) process, the official student evaluations were the only ones considered. Faculty at the time could opt for paper evaluations distributed in the last two weeks of the semester, or online evaluations. I went through all kinds of hoops getting this process up and running. One faculty member claimed students would go home, get drunk, and submit negative evaluations; he wanted the evaluation system to only be available 8am to 7pm. We were about three weeks into the first semester that we tried online evaluations, so I analyzed the data based on time-of-day submitted, and found out that students were actually slightly more favorable towards their professors from 7pm to 8am, not statistically significantly so, but at least that killed that argument.

My thesis compared one professor who taught the same course for three semesters, two sections per semester. Her first semester, it was both sections paper evaluations. The second semester, one section was paper and one was online, and the third semester both sections were online. (Her teaching did not vary over the three semesters.) The paper evaluations and the online evaluations effectively exactly matched.

When students pressed a department chair for access to the faculty evaluation data, he refused (they are considered personnel information), but told them to just check Rate My Professors. (I'll note that many other universities have negotiated with the faculty unions that student evaluation data, at least the numeric stuff in the aggregate, is public record.)

I constantly hear the complaint that RMP responses are self-selected, and only the negative reviews are submitted. I decided to test this, and wrote a program to screen-scrape the RMP pages and compare those ratings to the course evaluation ratings that my official system collected. As long as I required a minimum number of ratings (like ten) on RMP, I found a >0.9 correlation with the official evaluations. So the whole "it's only students bitching on RMP" is not actually true, if you do real data analysis (and shame on you lazy professors for stating "facts" without data!).

Despite being a card-carrying member of the California Faculty Association, I will say I was dismayed by the lengths some of my colleagues would go to to attempt to "game" the evaluations, as well as how much energy they put into trying to prove they were inaccurate. I finally snarled at a faculty meeting that if some of these faculty would put half as much effort into improving their teaching as they did into trying to disprove the evaluations that said their teaching sucked, they would have nothing to worry about during evaluations.

Of course, I say this scoring 4.9 out of 5.0 on Rate My Professors. I've since jumped from academia to private industry.

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    Wow. That's a great answer, provided with data! Is there anything (like a thesis) regarding your project on the Internet? – Haudie Dec 25 '17 at 14:07
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    It's an interesting data point. That said, my criticism of RMP isn't that the data isn't correlated with popularity in official evaluations (I am not surprised it is - why wouldn't it be?), but that RMP reviews are often fucking unprofessional and hurtful. As a faculty member, I reserve the right to not be judged on my "hotness". Of course, the more interesting question would be whether any anonymous evaluation is correlated with actual teaching performance (this question may also be the source of the pushback you received). – xLeitix Dec 26 '17 at 7:13
  • One thing missing in your evaluations is, how are the students evaluated? I mean, that should be the prime evaluation. You can only measure how good a professor is by measuring how well the students do. – Pieter B Dec 26 '17 at 8:23
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    @pieterb: "you can only measure" - why is that? Good professors can have bad students and vice versa. – Haudie Dec 26 '17 at 12:40
  • Very nice answer... provides something that would not be possible to know without actual bench-marking - the fact that RMProfessors is a good representation of a professor's actual performance. – displayName Dec 26 '17 at 21:16
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Some years ago, before I knew that "Rate My Professors" even existed, I found and looked at its page of comments about someone I knew. (I had a googled him to find his email address, and the "Rate My Professors" page was the first hit on Google.) What I saw there convinced me that I didn't want to read any more "Rate My Professors" pages. I've never looked at another one; in particular, I've never looked at my own.

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    Those "anyone can comment anonymously" sites tend to attract trollish behavior. I don't know whether [ratemyprofessor] or [koofers] are in this category. – GEdgar Dec 24 '17 at 17:04
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I am wondering if a professor is already an Associate Professor, do they still care about their reputation in the eyes of the department considering tenureship is already granted?

Yes, people generally care about what their department thinks about them even after tenure. But no, nobody in any department that I know about takes feedback at ratemyprof seriously. And does this really surprise you? One of the evaluation criteria is "hotness", and the comment section is just a cesspit of unreflected noise. Instead, universities run their own evaluations, which are then taken into account for tenure and promotion decisions (to varying degrees).

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    Unfortunately, in some universities it is not mandatory (or it is mandatory only every third semester, but some instructors then just forget to hand them out) to do these evaluations. – Haudie Dec 24 '17 at 21:48
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I do read what some students say about me in RateMyProfessors. But I know it's not really relevant because over the years I have been able to compare with the actual evaluations done by the majority of the students. Here are a few examples that show how those rates are largely irrelevant:

  • One semester I taught this course with 17 students. One student posted in RMP basically saying that I did everything wrong. On the anonymous course evaluations, 16 students wrote good to very good remarks, and one student wrote "everything wrong".

  • Often, reviews in RMP appear two or three weeks into the semester. Complete with opinions on how I grade.

  • Many of the reviews are clearly written from a point of view of "the important thing is an easy pass". I definitely do not teach to cater to such students.

Finally, I have never heard any discussion, neither official or not, about RMP in my faculty. The teaching evaluations carried by the faculty, on the other hand, play a role in tenure and promotion, and I know of promotions to full professor being rejected due to poor evaluations.

  • Did you ever ask the folk down the road at the U of S about some (in)famous RMP-related shenanigans 10-15 years ago? :) – Yemon Choi Dec 25 '17 at 15:07
  • Never heard about that. But then, I'm always the last one to learn about any kind of news :) – Martin Argerami Dec 25 '17 at 16:02
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    +1 for being the only answer so far (I believe) to point out the huge selection bias in RMP reviews (which is in my opinion the main think that makes such sites is useless) – Kimball Dec 25 '17 at 21:34
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From my experience in the US it does not boil down to caring about rate my professor for professional reasons (i.e. we don't have to worry about getting good grades on the site for tenure purposes), but it does boil down to ego or esteem. At my college, we all have internal review surveys that go out to students every semester before tenure, and then every three years after tenure. These results are then compiled and sent to the professors after the semester grades have been submitted. We also receive semesterly course visits from our dean before tenure, then once every three years thereafter to make sure we are doing our jobs properly and professionally. These are the evaluations that are most important for tenure and other professional reasons. I imagine it is similar to this in other universities. Internal reviews are way more important than rate my professor.

Personally I never want to look at my scores on rate my professor; I know that some students will like me, some will hate me, and I don't want to lose sleep thinking about the nasty things that students can write when they are able to be anonymous. From what little I have seen (especially from the great answer above) most of the comments are not at all constructive. Therefore I see little point in reading them, as I will not be able to take that feedback and improve my teaching from it. (Unless I ever decide to just let my students do nothing and walk away with free "A" grades at the end of the semester.)

However I do have a colleague who bends over backwards to his students and will brag unendingly about how he is one of the highest rated professor on RMP at our particular college. So, I suppose there are some who really do care about it.

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    I cheat - I bring donuts on final exam night (presentations actually) so I have good ratings on RMP :) When these sites first appeared I made the argument as both a student and an adjunct faculty member that it wasn't obvious to students how the internal "student course satisfaction survey" was used, or if the results were available. I tried to get our faculty senate to agree to publishing the results, but the majority couldn't agree to it. Does your institution make any of the data available to students? – ivanivan Dec 24 '17 at 16:10
  • @ivanivan I don't think we make that data available, but that's a good question. I usually bake cookies. :-D – lemontwist Dec 24 '17 at 16:30
  • To be fair: In the great answer, the user may have cherry-picked the "non-helpful answers" (to make their point): Indeed, if you google for these statements, you find a ratemyprof-page where many students complain about their instructor not being able to explain calculus clearly and write that one has to have had calculus before to understand anything. These comments may be useful for the instructor, evaluations and of course prospective students. – Haudie Dec 24 '17 at 21:53
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My subjective answer is that in my environment they are way too busy to read such sites. So, if someone they care about ever drives their attention towards a review of themselves in such sites, they are likely to go and check, otherwise the professors ignore the rating sites.

(That's all, folks, sorry...)

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    Whoever downvoted: why? – Leon Meier Dec 26 '17 at 18:56
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Just for reference, I know a part time lecturer who after a few years of teaching checked in patatabrava.com (a local equivalent to such webs) and found no reviews, rants, quotes or ratings on her. As a result, she was mildly disappointed, as "important" professors are usually well covered in such webs.

In summary: as other answers have covered, such webs don't matter in practical terms, but they can still be a source of feedback and/or pride - probably a rather bizarre source.

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