Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'm One Hot Chili Pepper

The Chronicle of Higher Education today has an article entitled "The Art of the Bogus Rating," in which I have been accused of writing my own Rate My Professors rating.* The horror! The only evidence the Chronicle has to that end is this post and a suspicious-looking rating of me that reads,

He isn't just the best prof at TSU -- he's the best prof that ever lived! We worship Prof. Nokes as unto a god! Legend has it that touching a paper he has graded instantly raises your IQ 10 points! If you touch his bald head, you'll make the Dean's List!

Very, very weak evidence indeed.

Seriously, though, I find the idea that RateMyProfessors is the second sign of the apocalypse** kind of silly. It might bill itself as accurate, but then again, ESPN bills dog shows as a sport. By having a chili pepper "hotness" rating, RMP outs itself as a novelty site.

Is that novelty bad? I don't think so. Students need, I think, a space to blow off steam. In most cases, students aren't really foolish enough to think that professors are their enemies, but in the crush of a difficult semester, when your boyfriend has just dumped you, you have eaten nothing but ramen noodles for a week, and your roommate's drama queen antics are preventing you from getting any real studying done, when that professor springs a pop quiz on you it can feel like he's springing it on you, specifically. The easiest way to deal with that stress is by deflating the image of that professor in your own head. If not for Rate My Professors, students would simply do this in the old fashioned way -- by impersonating you for their friends.

Nor is it like Rate My Professors is the only venue out there. MySpace, for example, has a "Grade My Professor" section that looks awfully similar to Rate My Professors. Given how much Facebook is trying to emulate MySpace, I would expect it won't be long until Facebook has a rating sysem. Indeed, if these spaces didn't exist, someone would have to invent them. One college I taught at in Lithuania had a tradition that the students would put on a skit night near the end of the spring semester -- primarily composed of skits skewering the profs.

One concern raised in the article is that administrators may take these ratings seriously. I agree that could be a problem -- but that is a problem of incompetent administration, not with online ratings sites. In the example given in the article of someone allegedly fired for bad Rate My Professors reviews, the school denied RMP is a factor, and called inclusion of them in the personnel file "a mistake." Even if it were intentional, their denial is tacit admission that RMP is not an appropriate measure of an instructor's merits.

So, gentle readers, I again invite you to rate my on Rate My Professors, or on MySpace, or in any other non-official venue. Facebook has no rating system, but I do invite people to join the Nokes Bow Tie Brigade Facebook group which encourages "cult-like mindless adherence to the teachings of Dr. Nokes," as well as the wearing of bow ties.

*Full disclosure: Dr. Matt Julius, prominently mentioned in the article, has been a friend of mine since we went to undergrad together.
**The first, of course, being blogging.


  1. youe hath beene skewerede

  2. Anonymous8:58 PM

    O great Sekon, you have been evaluated by me. It is, moreover, predicted by me that the aforementioned evaluation will soon be read by you in today's modern American society.

  3. I think that the academic profession is fearfully insecure. It's always got to take itself very very seriously to compensate for the fact that ordinary people think what we do is pretty damned eccentrica and maybe entirely useless. No laughing in the academy -- it might blow our cover.

    But of course our cover is already blown! :-)

  4. BTW,

    If your RateMyProf rating shows up on the first page of Google hits, it might be an idea to post some more substantial material on the Web, so that people quickly find out what you are really like.

  5. Anonymous9:15 PM

    I felt like I owed you a better rating since my last one was mediocre. This time I gave you a chili pepper, which was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. I'm still kind of creeped out by it.

  6. Anonymous9:20 AM

    sigh... the internet is full of people who either take the internet far too seriously (people who easily get offended), or not seriously enough (idiots who post their full information, including addresses, on Myspace and Facebook). Whatever happened to human beings being able to find a healthy medium?

  7. Anonymous9:43 PM

    ha!! good point -- you've got me. I had just assumed that, at least in one point in our history, we human beings had learned about moderation (which one of the Ancient Greeks said "Everything in moderation?").

  8. There's something to be said for skit night. I attended one at the University of Michigan, organized by the economics graduate students. It provided me with some material.

    "Daddy, can I play in the street?"


    "Why not?"

    Cast member playing theorist Hal Varian, now at Berkeley:

    Let me handle this. (picks up stuffed animal resembling dog.)

    Suppose not. Then it is safe to play in the streets. (Tosses dog out the door. From offstage, sound of screeching tires and animal yelping in pain.)


    Cast member playing David Aschauer: Hal, your proofs always were a bit messy.

    Hereafter, I have referred to indirect proofs as "throw the dog out the door."