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Rate your professors’ … Hotness?

Topics/tags: Teaching, short

For a number of years, the Web site Rate My Professors has provided a way for students to provide shared feedback about their classes. It should not be surprising that such a site exists; many schools have both formal and informal rating systems by students for students [1].

One of the funny metrics that RMP used was hotness, which was represented by chili peppers. Recently, Rate My Professors decided to eliminate the hotness rating. You can read about the change on Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Before we go any further, let me start by saying that I consider it inappropriate to rate faculty on how attractive they are. It has no relevance to how well they teach [2]. And, as importantly, it encourages students to objectify their teachers. Ideally, we should be teaching our students not to objectify people, whether they be teachers, or peers, or, well anyone. From that perspective, the elimination of the chili peppers is a move in the right direction.

Nonetheless, I’m a little sad to see them go. And no, it’s not because I have so many chili peppers; I think my number is close to zero. Rather, it’s because of how I’ve used the chili peppers in talking to students and because of what they tell us about student ratings of professors.

The Rate My Professors chili peppers play an important role in one of the dad jokes associated with my Tigger suit. It goes something like this.

Sam, aren’t you hot in that Tigger suit?

Yes, but you’d never tell from the number of chili peppers I get on Rate My Professors.

I can probably continue to use the joke for a few more years. After that, it won’t make sense anymore.

But there’s a more important reason that I’m sad to see them go. Because Rate My Professors gathered the data and made them available, it’s possible to show that student ratings of faculty quality correlate with student ratings of faculty appearance. That’s troublesome. Would we know that without RMP? We might; those who study the text students write on end-of-course evaluations know that students are more likely to comment on a woman faculty member’s appearance than they are to comment on a man’s. But we wouldn’t know as much and we wouldn’t know about within-gender effects.

Is it worth the loss of my joke and the loss of additional data worth it if they eliminate a way in which students are encouraged to objectify people? Definitely. I can make bad jokes about other issues. And, well, we now know yet another way that end-of-course evaluations are biased.

Of course, given the number of ways that EOCEs have been shown to be biased, it stuns me that institutions treat anything but the coarsest results from EOCEs as useful in evaluating faculty members.

Bye-bye, chili peppers. You shan’t be missed.

[1] Back when I was at Dartmouth, I’m pretty sure that there was a student publication that had ratings of all the courses.

[2] I suppose that someone could make facetious arguments like You’re more likely to pay attention to an attractive teacher or You’re more likely to be distracted by an attractive teacher. Such arguments are irrelevant.

Version 1.0 of 2018-07-03.