32

I pay close attention to how my rating scores/comments are like on the RateMyProfessor website. Very rarely I reported inappropriate comments (which violated site guidelines) for removals, and the average score has been decent (4.8).

Since last week, after I reported a comment (with improper language which violates the site guidelines), very suspiciously the same student (who is angry about their bad grade) has been trying to (even until now) leave 10+ intentionally untrue, deceiving comments with low scores.

My average has now been brought down to below 4.0. I've been frustrated because this severely compromised all true comments left by previous students. I reported this to the site and am still waiting for a response. Any suggestions?

  • 74
    Why does this matter? Who cares about such scores? – Buffy May 26 at 13:29
  • 26
    It may not matter to my offically evaluation by the school. But this is a common source which perspective students look at, and it's just frustrating that all recent comments are simply untrue and deceiving. – user2574706 May 26 at 13:35
  • 92
    "Any suggestions?" Stop worrying about RateMyProfessor and the like ;-) – Massimo Ortolano May 26 at 13:36
  • 20
    I would say that, besides it being perfectly fair to care about one's own reputation online, this could have some professional consequences. My understanding is that many undergraduates still check this website when deciding whether to enroll in a course. The difference between a very good score and a mediocre one may be relevant to course enrollment. It may not apply to OP, but some (non-tenure-track in the US) faculty lose money for under-enrolled courses or even lose their contract if their course enrollment is too low. – commscho May 26 at 23:00
  • 37
    @MassimoOrtolano "Have you tried not caring about it?" seems like a fairly unhelpful frame challenge. Clearly the OP is upset enough to post about it. – gszavae May 27 at 5:08
43

As the comments suggest, just ignore it. You will always have disgruntled students even if you do a great job. Some will blame you for their own shortcomings.

But the best "defense" against such negative comments is the positive comments from those who think you served them well. If those appear also, then a reader can easily judge it for what it is.

If you want to "sabotage" such things, just point other students to the site, without comment. You don't need to "defend" yourself when your other students naturally do so themselves.

| improve this answer | |
  • 38
    I'd lose a lot of respect for a professor who pointed my to a rating site, however indirectly that might be. – pmf May 27 at 13:43
  • 4
    @pmf, why is that? Certainly they can say what they like there. Or say nothing at all. – Buffy May 27 at 14:16
  • 15
    @Buffy because even an indirect hint can be read as a suggestion to vote there or as support for such sites. – Frank Hopkins May 27 at 18:42
  • @FrankHopkins, that's possible of course depending on what you say. Or you could treat them like adults. "This course is being discussed at ..." – Buffy May 27 at 19:03
  • 2
    @Buffy I'm not saying I would necessarily react like that, but OP seems to assume at least some of their students are a bit ... let's say childish, have low media competence etc. "This course is being discussed at" makes it imho sound official, which is okay if OP is okay with that, I wouldn't want to elevate such a site by that, but personal choice, also for the wording. And in general valid advice, with the caveat that - like all actions - it can be seen negatively by someone and arguably you support a system you don't like (but OP seems to be fine with the system, so that might not apply). – Frank Hopkins May 27 at 20:54
17

Let's assume that your primary concern for caring about your rating is that you want students to see you in a positive light for some reason that you hold dear. Further assume that this is personal for you, and you recognize that RateMyProf reviews do not hold much weight for your chances of tenure.

There are two very common scenarios that happen when the average student visits RateMyProf. It is typically your average student that will put weight on RateMyProf, and it is typically the average student that will spend time writing a review for you on RateMyProf, so keeping the average student in mind is important. I believe then that there are two types of profiles on RateMyProf that very accurately reflect how professors are when they put their teaching hats on (of course, sample size is huge here):

  1. You generally have a high score, positive comments, and a few comments that suggest you probably got a PhD in tormenting students in classrooms.

The students will notice that the majority of comments and ratings suggest you are a great teacher, you care about your students, and most importantly you are good at teaching the average student (this seems to be the case you fall under). Students will accurately be able to flag the relatively small number of negative comments and assign those as problems on the part of the student writing that negative review. After all, there really is nothing to gain by students from writing a good review for you other than that they appreciated you as an instructor. On the other hand, in this scenario, the incentive to write you a bad review is driven by spiting you, and it's pretty easy for the average student to recognize when that is happening.

  1. You have a low to low-medium score, a record of bad-subpar reviews by the students, occasionally there are some shining reviews among all of the bad ones

Students viewing this type of profile will probably be correct in their assessment of your inability to teach to the average student. Students looking at a profile like this will likely identify that, for some reason or another, your teaching style is not suitable for them and that students are probably being more truthful about their negative reviews then the outlier of the previous scenario. It is much more telling when many students write bad reviews, because it indicates a pattern of poor communication instead of an outlier. On the other hand, students looking at this type of profile will notice some of the 'glowing' outlier comments and probably recognize that those students are the ones that are either harder workers or are relatively gifted to their peers and would have succeeded anyways. To the average student, those great comments don't hold any value because it does not apply to them.

There are other scenarios that are more difficult to distinguish, particularly those of average score, because the lack of polarity makes it difficult to assess what is going on. But based on my experience as a student that has used RateMyProf to help me choose courses, and from many conversations I have had with friends in the fraternity/sorority system as well as other student organizations, many of the average students can accurately assess (with a sufficient sample size of reviews) whether a professor is going to be a good or bad educator/instructor for the average student.

| improve this answer | |
  • This discussion about racism and sexism has been moved to chat. – cag51 May 27 at 20:29
  • When one student portrays themselves as a dozen, it starts to look like a chorus of voices against, and typical prospective students would not likely have the media literacy to be able to distinguish between that and an actual consensus of dissatisfaction. I think the assumption in this answer that the average student-reader can distinguish is not warranted. – WBT May 29 at 15:58
10

Here's a perspective you may not have considered: maybe your disgruntled student did you a favor.

I used to ask students every semester to give me scathing reviews on RateMyProfessor saying nobody should take me except math-loving workaholics. That way slackers shopping around for an easy TA would be less likely to pick me. Also, anyone that saw the reviews and took my class anyway would spend the first month expecting the worst and diligently keeping up.

So, what did they say-- you're a hard grader? Can't teach? Bad students will see their future and be scared away. Good students notice that all your bad reviews are in one contiguous streak, keep reading, see the good reviews, and take you.

It's a great filter!

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    OK, this is actually brilliant. I am upvoting! As for my own 29 years as a chemistry professor, I looked at RMP once, saw it was crap and never looked again. – Ed V May 28 at 2:27
  • 1
    Downvoted because the supposed filter effect would be limited to only negative comments deliberately crafted for that purpose. I see no reason that general negative comments—for example "a horrible teacher"—would have this effect. Both bad students and good students are perfectly entitled to want good teaching, and both bad students and good students are perfectly capable of interpreting meta-information on a rating site. It's also the case that while driving away bad students might be personally desirable, it's almost surely a violation of our professional ethics. – Greg Martin May 29 at 0:59
  • Your perspective on prospectives is prescriptive. – par May 29 at 1:29
9

You didn't ask a specific question, but I can give some suggestions that I hope help put the matter in perspective.

  1. You are frustrated. Frustration is an emotion that's both legitimate and understandable in the situation you describe. Allow yourself to feel that very real emotion—but, while respecting its reality, recognizing that you can make choices independent of feeling the emotion.
  2. You have acknowledged that the site's average rating does not have serious consequences for your career, and I suspect you also understand that the effect on readers of the site are also limited. So the stakes are not high here, which can be reassuring.
  3. You have engaged with that site's official procedures for curating comments. You can't control the outcome of that engagement. So let them do whatever they do (obviously responding helpfully to any queries they send back) and otherwise turn your mind to things that you value and can affect.
  4. You can't control what other people do, even a student who is acting maliciously. As above, you can choose to turn your mind to things that you value and can affect.
  5. Letting go of things you can't change might feel unsatisfying. That's a perfectly legitimate way to feel. Regardless, you can choose to spend energy on other things. Easier said than done, sometimes, I know! but recognizing that emotions don't have to be solved or overcome is, I find, a great help in making choices when negative feelings are around.
| improve this answer | |
5

This comment by @Massimo Ortolano should be an answer, so I am humbly quoting in mine.

Stop worrying about RateMyProfessor and the like.

Also, "welcome to the Internet. We have cookies".

The same thing often happens with anonymous student feedback, where students try to "get their own back" or even deliberately harm the lecturer. The solution is, again, the same. You ignore it because you must not pick a fight with the Internet, not because you allow yourself to be bullied or slandered, but because your reputation and professional worth does not hang on some unsubstantiated comments thrown at random. Everyone knows and understands how "reviews" work, and besides, you do not want someone naive enough to believe them to become your student.

| improve this answer | |
1

Create your own review.

Briefly explain your teaching philosophy. Perhaps make an addendum: very briefly mention the disgruntled student's reviews. (I don't think it would look good to mention the exact rating though.) This is optional and just shows the data (rating) is falsely skewed.

If the RateMyProfessor staff haven't taken down that student's 10+ comments, they're also unlikely to take down your own comment. If I was a student looking at a professor's page, I would want to know the rating and 10+ comments are ingenious.

You might want to also check out the "I'm professor [you]" button.

| improve this answer | |
  • 5
    In the same philosophy as the comments asking the OP not to care: it seems even more uncouth to care to the extent that you get involved on RMP. – Eric May 27 at 13:35
  • 3
    @Eric I don't think it's uncouth. Note, I didn't suggest for that professor to give themselves a 5 star rating nor make multiple reviews. It's merely a symbolic gesture to shows that they care. To reiterate, one review. Beyond that, "Additionally, we encourage teachers to engage with their profiles by creating a professor account and providing feedback." So the rest of my answer would still apply regardless of how you feel about the first part. – adamaero May 27 at 15:39
  • 2
    Objectively, if you're looking at a set of data (e.g., ratings) and it's falsely skewed, you're going to want to know that the data is not representative! No feelings about it. It's just flat out incorrect to say "Objectively, a student would [feel this way]." You're merely injecting your own subjective feelings. – adamaero May 27 at 16:49
  • 1
    I would avoid any professor that cared enough about a negative review on rmp to make a post on it like the plague. Ugh. What Eric is saying is completely correct. – eps May 28 at 15:10
  • 1
    I really don't care about your subjective opinion on the matter. I explained why one's subjective feeling doesn't matter with respect to data. Additionally, the post should be about the prof's teaching philosophy. The false skew is just a heads up, mentioning. – adamaero May 28 at 16:16
-1

A slightly different perspective, even if the end result is the same of other answers.

Is that site well-designed?

You reported the untrue and duplicated comments.

  • If the site admins act on it, it means that the site works: the problem is solved.
  • If the untrue reviews stay there, it means that the site is completely bogus: it's not to be trusted at all with anything.

So you should not care either way. Not "because Internet", but because if this problem isn't solved, the site itself becomes irrelevant.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I'd consider what you say an opinion, I wouldn't be so sure about that. Plus, if the same user posted more than one review, then it is a technical flaw of the site. – o0'. May 27 at 18:00
  • 1
    @user111388 yes. If this is a site where anyone can write any untrue thing and it just stays, the site itself is pointless and you should ignore it. Or sue it. Talk to a lawyer. – o0'. May 27 at 18:30
  • 4
    So if somebody writes an untrue thing on Stackexchange, one should forget this site? – user111388 May 27 at 18:40
  • 1
    I'll note that this isn't a new site. It has been around for years. They don't try to determine the "truth" of anything. It is just opinions about courses and faculty. Some of it isn't so nice. If you teach you can probably find yourself there. – Buffy May 27 at 19:07
  • 1
    @user111388 if the post gets upvoted and stands out, yes. – o0'. May 28 at 19:36

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.