Professor Rating websites reveal biases among students

Emily O'Toole

With spring registration fast approaching, students are advised to be weary of professor rating websites when choosing classes.

Websites like UT Life and Rate My Professors allow students to leave reviews for courses and professors. Mathematics professor Bill Wolesensky, the highest rated professor at UT on Rate My Professors said students should focus on reviews about content learned.

“Of course there may be those bias’s … so of course that may influence responses,” Wolesensky said in an email. 

In April of 2016, psychological journal “Frontiers in Psychology” published an article saying extensive research has been conducted regarding the connection between teacher reviews and quality of education. The literature on the subject identified characteristics that affect ratings like professor looks, ethnicity and student and instructor gender.

“It can be a sexist comment,” Wolesensky said. “It can be a racist comment … They shouldn’t even be allowed.”

Student opinions can vary wildly on UT Life. About one professor, an anonymous commenter said, “by the linguistics of this teacher, you’d think you were border hopping the Valley and Mexico.” Another said the same professor is “one of the most memorable and impactful professors (they were) privileged to have studied with.”

Mechanical engineering senior Geena May said she usually avoids professor rating websites.

“I think that most of the people who fill out Rate My Professors are the people who do poorly in the classes and want to get back at their professor, so you see a lot more negative comments than positive comments,” May said.

Though these biases may exist, ratings can be informative, Wolesensky said.

“If (the students) are using them simply to avoid certain things or get an easy grade, it’s a bad thing, but if you’re using it to find someone who has a learning environment that’s positive and those comments are repeated over and over, you can probably say that (students) will learn a lot in their class.” Wolesenky said. “If that’s how you’re using, it’s a good thing.”

Kinesiology freshman Olivia Siciliano said she doesn’t let what she reads online be the deciding factor when she chooses a course.

“The stuff you read on there, you have to take it with a grain of salt,” said Siciliano. “The class is honestly what you make it, you have to be willing to … adapt.”