An un-illuminated chili pepper, blue frowney face, low ratings on helpfulness or easiness and blunt comments about negative aspects of the professor dissuade Stephan de la Rosa, an undeclared second-year, from taking a particular professor’s course. He wants to find flaming hot chili peppers, smiley faces and numbers above 4.0 out of 5.0.
UC Davis students fill out evaluation forms at the end of every quarter to assess the professor and the course, yet the students never see the results of their ratings. In order to judge a professor’s quality, students thus often turn to using infamous website ratemyprofessor.com.
Rate My Professor has several categories in which a professor is ranked: overall quality, helpfulness, clarity, easiness and hotness. The first four are rated on a 1 to 5 scale while the hotness factor is indicated by an illuminated red hot chili pepper icon. If the professor is flaming hot, the pepper will appear with flames as if on fire.
However, should opinions on ratemyprofessor.com and the ratings on course evaluations be allowed to affect a professor’s salary?
“I think the course reviews we do in class at the end of the quarter should be looked at when they decide a professor’s salary,” said Andrew Zufall, a third-year psychology major. “[But] it shouldn’t carry much weight, because a professor’s skill isn’t always reflected in how much they are liked by students. I’ve had professors who I liked a lot for their personality, yet I didn’t learn a lot from them.”
Zufall considers Dr. Bryan Enderle, a chemistry lecturer, to be one of the best science lecturers he’s had since coming to UC Davis.
“I enjoyed [his] class because he made the material easy to grasp while keeping it interesting. He has the very rare capability to teach a tough, potentially boring subject and make students laugh while they learn,” Zufall said.
Out of 365 ratings, Enderle is mostly rated by his Chemistry 2A and Chemistry 2B students.
He scores a 4.6 for overall quality, 4.6 for helpfulness, 4.5 for clarity and 2.9 easiness, and laughs when informed of the flaming hot chili pepper he has earned on ratemyprofessor.com.
“No, [I don’t] really [read the reviews],” Enderle said.
Animal science professor Thomas Famula, however, does admit to reading some of the reviews.
“A bit ago, I did. They sent me an email that said I was one of the highest in the country or something. Normally I try not to look at that stuff; I don’t want to feel bad,” Famula said.
With 154 ratings, and a majority of the students being from his Animal Science 1 class, Famula scores 4.9 for overall quality, 4.9 for helpfulness, 4.9 for clarity, 3.8 for easiness and has earned a flaming hot chili pepper. He considers his favorite part of teaching to be his Animal Science 1 course.
“In the case of Animal Science 1, it’s mostly fall quarter freshmen … there is a lot of energy in the room. Nobody has a GPA yet, everyone’s dreams are going to be fulfilled. They’re really happy. [Animal Science 1 students often] haven’t had the chance to have organic chemistry yet,” Famula said.
Famula explains that because UC Davis is a research university, student ratings either on ratemyprofessor.com or on course evaluations do not affect professors’ salaries.
“In theory, your salary, which is how we rank in the system, is geared [toward] your scholarship first, whether you’re publishing … In the humanities they have different criteria, but the same idea — it is mostly on your outside of classroom mark, not that it’s not important in the classroom,” Famula said.
Unlike UC Davis, UC San Diego chooses to make the student course evaluations publicly accessible to students online.
“I think it would be good [if UC Davis did this too]. Students [can] write things in there that are really helpful [or else] rude or cool. I’ve seen things over the years in mine: ‘Has a sexy voice’ … What am I supposed to do with that?” Famula said. “My colleagues see [the course evaluation results]; anybody in your department can see them. So why shouldn’t the students?”
Famula explains how UC Davis used to implement a sort of public record of student ratings of the professors.
“ASUCD used to put out Student View Point, and it was like Ratemyprofessor but on paper. Back when I first got hired, people could write comments, anyone could submit them and it was published in a little booklet not unlike the course schedule. And students could look at them,” Famula said.
De la Rosa and Zufall both agree that publications of student ratings such as those on ratemyprofessor.com help sway them toward or away from a professor, but that if the results of the course evaluations were made public, they would find them more truthful.
“All reviews must be taken with a grain of salt. Some people are extreme on niceness and criticalness,” De la Rosa said.
Regardless of whether student reviews are on ratemyprofessor.com or simply on course evaluations, student opinions of professors matter and should be necessary.
“The vet school, for example, won’t even give the grades to students until they’ve completed their evaluations. I think it’s a tricky balance between the privacy of the student writing it and somehow seeing [the result]. I think [that’s] useful,” Famula said.
Overall, both professors and students agree that if the course evaluations were made public records online, students would not have to resort to the sometimes skewed views on ratemyprofessor.com.
“If [the course evaluation results] were online they’d be a more accurate representation of those in the classroom,” Enderle said.
Zufall agreed with Enderle.
“It would be more reputable than Ratemyprofessor because it would have everyone’s opinions, not just those who take the time to go online and fill out Ratemyprofessor. In my experience the reviews on Ratemyprofessor are from those who did really well or really bad in the class, not from anyone in the middle (like a C or B-),” Zufall said.
Ultimately, the publication of course evaluations for students to see would result in a more reliable source for reviewing professors, according to Zufall.
“I would trust those records much more,” Zufall said.
ALYSSA KUHLMAN can be reached at email@example.com