Lecturers revolt over 'rate your tutor' website

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The Independent Online

As feedback goes it's a bit on the harsh side. "She is very kind and can be helpful but, boy, is she insane. The insanity leads to volatility sometimes which leads to her being not very kind."

Welcome to ratemyprofessors.com – the website which lets students grade their tutors. It has been the scourge of university professors in the United States and now it has reached Britain and is being embraced by undergraduates.

Nearly 1,300 British academics have been ranked on the website, where they are marked on "easiness", "helpfulness", "clarity" – and whether they are "hot".

Some of the comments which accompany the marks are controversial to say the least. One tutor is described as: "Arrogant, rude, unhelpful and supremely egotistical. His specialist field is himself." Another is damned with: "Ignores her students mostly, a very false personality and especially when handing out praise. Incredibly patronising and not very bright."

Comments are posted anonymously. This has led to comments such as "bring a pillow", "not only is the book a better teacher, it also has a better personality", and "Boring. But I learnt that there are 137 tiles on the ceiling."

Ratemyprofessor.com has received around six million postings about 750,000 academics since 1999. Since it was extended to cover England, Scotland and Wales, the number of British lecturers on the site has reached 1,284. However, the ratings have been controversial, with academics protesting about bullying and derogatory comments from anonymous students.

One of the main criticisms has been that there is no way to tell if a comment comes from a vindictive student, a student happy about getting an A on an otherwise disappointing course – or the academic themselves. And academics complain that idle disaffected students have as much say as diligent ones.

A study of the ratings, conducted by James Felton, professor of finance at Central Michigan University, found that "the hotter and easier professors are, the more likely they'll get rated as a good teacher". His research warned that at their worst, ratings are "not much removed from graffiti on the walls of restrooms".

However, research published this month in the journal Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education suggested that the ratings may not be biased and could even be used by universities in hiring and promotion. But Sally Hunt, general secretary of UCU, the lecturers' union, said: "All staff and students have the right to work free from intimidation. Online gossip might seem harmless but it can lead to serious bullying. If students have concerns about lecturers, they should go through proper channels. Universities need to consult unions regarding any policies that they wish to produce in this area."