Thursday, March 20, 2008

You Make Me Feel Like, Feel Like Saying. . . Foxy

Trolling through the Chronicle forums, I came across someone worried about some crappy Rate My Professor comments, and how the comments could influence a search committee. Here's they advice they got:
1. Post a bunch of positive reviews on RMP for yourself. Not all at once, that would be suspicious. . . . But log on every now and then, create a new hotmail address for each fake persona if you have to (although I'm not sure it's necessary) and post away!
Sounds like that'd do the trick.

But you know who really needs to take this advice? The Future Dr. Mrs Dr PGS. She's got a lot of seriously unprofessional-sounding comments on her Rate My Professor page. I know, because I put them there. Heh.

-- PGS

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd be very curious to hear from SC members - does anyone really take that stuff seriously in the least? Personally, I've had rave reviews, total pans, and some students actually going back and forth on my merits (if only they put quite so much thought into their papers...). Though it never feels good to be criticized, and we're all tempted to assume the positive feedback is totally accurate, it didn't take much time for me to conclude that RMP was an absurd, occasionally delightful, piece of fluff.

Anonymous said...

ny times article on professors strike back.

Anonymous said...

Ratemyprofessors is good for a laugh, and nothing else. I have posted ridiculous things for my friends who teach at other schools, simply because I can (my favorite example: I berated one of my friends for caring more about the starry heavens above him than the moral law within him) --there is no way for RMP to check who is rating who. Everyone who rates is anonymous, and you don't even have to be at the same school, or have taken a class with who you review.

If student evaluations run by universities are nonsense, then RMP is nonsense on stilts.

And I think that most SC members would agree with my estimation of RMP.

philo said...

I'm fairly confident that a rather scathing review I received on RMP came from a student I failed. My S.O. then decided to write a rather flirty and positive review (complete with chili pepper) to balance things out.

It's a goofy site, but I'm satisfied at the thought that I wouldn't want to work anywhere where RMP was taken seriously. Good for laughs though!

What I wonder is if students find it helpful at all in discerning which professors to seek out or avoid on campus, or is it only useful as a place to rant (or rave) about one's profs...

Anonymous said...

Regarding The Future Dr. Mrs Dr PGS, I've been wondering, for a while now: what does the adj 'future' qualify? her Dr-ness, her future Mrs-ness, PGS's Dr-ness, or all of the above?
Cheers

Anonymous said...

I doubt many SCs take the RMP ratings seriously. At most, they might cause the SC to look more carefully at a candidate's teaching portfolio/demonstration, but I couldn't imagine RMP alone hurting a candidacy without other 'weak-teaching' evidence to back it up. I have an absolutely terrible RMP rating (torpedoed by two students I failed...one who appeared to rate me multiple times). But, I also have strong official student evaluations. RMP didn't hurt me on the job market. SCs are smart enough to know that RMP is easily 'rigged' and is a statistically inaccurate gauge of your teaching.

Pseudonymous Grad Student said...

Anon. 11:11 --

d) All of the above!

Sisyphus said...

I sure hope SCs take RMP with a big grain of salt, as we were all sitting in the computer lab rating each other for a lark once.

Anon 8:49, I have overhead students at the library kiosks choosing their "fourth class" entirely based on RMP notes --- as in, I have three "real classes" this quarter; which of these others has the fewest and shortest assignments? Which profs are rated as easy or not caring?

Of course way more students must just pick by "it was open and fit my schedule" or else my sections would never fill.

--- evil horrible bitch TA who grades too hard.

Anonymous said...

Sisyphus,

"Evil horrible bitch TA who grades too hard" ...I wouldn't worry too much about acidic comments that are directly connected to your grading. Almost every person in academia knows this is code for "this prof. actually expected me to do work, and I failed to meet expectations....I'm used to sliding by."

In fact, when I've been asked for sample student evaluations, I always include a couple who gave me low marks and complained about my tough grading. This proves to the SC that my good evaluations aren't merely the result of grade inflation and that my poor evaluations aren't the result of actual character flaws.

Sincerely,
-"Two-faced bastard who doesn't care about his students" a.k.a. the hard grader

Anonymous said...

I recently noticed that in the Department I teach in one particular adjunct's classes filled up way ahead of anybody else's during registration. This means his classes were almost all juniors and seniors, which, in a way, is a benefit for him since he has more experienced students. I checked on RMP and saw that he was ranked as "very easy" and "missed five classes last semester and makes it easy." It is clear that students are choosing this adjunct by a wide margin over other regular faculty. I find this quite deplorable since (1) students are obviously seeking out the easiest professor in the department, and (2) this means that there are less seniors and juniors to spread around the classes of other faculty. I don't know how widespread this practice is, but I find it troubling.

Anonymous said...

But the juniors and seniors who aren't in your classes are the laziest ones. Why do you think these are the ones who are more sophisticated?

Anonymous said...

I can't think of a better reason to increase the number of tenure-track positions than Anon 11:10's comment. Adjuncts have no job security, and if they don't get good evaluations, their jobs are in jeopardy. Studies have shown that there is a tight correlation between class ease & grade averages and evaluation scores. Adjuncts, and non-tenured faculty in general, feel the force of the dilemma: inflate grades or don't eat and kiss your future career good-bye.

Gricemeister said...

Your juniors and seniors suck. Don't you have curricular requirements that make them take hard classes with lots of reading, writing, thinking.. y'know, philosophy?

Anonymous said...

This is worth a look re: whether schools and departments should look at student evaluations when it comes to evaluating faculty.

Anonymous said...

The students I'm referring to in these classes are in our introductory courses--they are not the majors in the Philosophy Department who have to meet our normal/upper level curricular requirements. The reason I say that the juniors and seniors in these classes are more sophisticated is just that they tend on average to know how to write papers already, what's expected of them in a research paper, etc. Too many freshman in one's classes can make it tough going if they are new to college and don't know what's expected of them in a paper yet. So, in my view it would be nice if some of these students were spread around in all the faculty's classes more. In my own case, I see that my current class schedule lists 7 juniors and seniors, and the adjunct's class schedule lists over 50. It's quite clear from this that students at my school are searching out the easiest professors on RMP and setting their schedules accordingly.

Gricemeister said...

Ah.

What does your department head think about the adjunct's teaching of the intro course, then?

Anonymous said...

I haven't yet spoken with the Department head about this situation, as I just learned about it. But I'm going to soon. It is quite frustrating to think that my efforts to teach good and rigorous courses in my Department are being undermined by the excessively easy adjuncts that students seek out through RMP.

mr. zero said...

I haven't yet spoken with the Department head about this situation, as I just learned about it. But I'm going to soon.

I don't know if that's a good idea. This adjunct is probably in a precarious situation, career-wise. He probably works almost as much as you do (or more, if he adjuncts at two or more places), and he probably makes less than half what you do, he probably doesn't have any benefits or health insurance, and he has absolutely no job security whatsoever. I don't know if you ought to go around making trouble for him. Your actions could result in his being fired.

Anonymous said...

Are you suggesting that I should knowingly permit students to take courses whose pedagogical value are questionable? Not only does it strike me as a disservice to the department, since this adjunct is attracting a very large number of juniors and seniors that might be distributed in our other courses, but it also seems to me to be a disservice to the students who are getting less education for their money. The fact that the adjunct makes class so easy for students does not seem to be beneficial to them.

mr. zero said...

Are you suggesting that I should knowingly permit students to take courses whose pedagogical value are questionable?

Come off it. Yesterday you were just complaining that he was stealing the "sophisticated" students from your class. Now all of a sudden your motives are altruistic--you're looking out for the kids! Give me a break. They're grown-ups. They can make their own decisions.

All I'm saying is, this guy could end up getting fired. Is that something you're prepared to live with?

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:49's comments of course have a point. I don't have anything beyond anecdotal evidence, but I doubt that the *content* of most adjunct courses is easier. Although my evidence is only anecdotal, my sense is that the material and assignments are challenging, but the *grading* for performance on the material is inflated. Of course, that's not desirable, but the solution doesn't seem to be to punish the adjuncts. Rather, it seems to be to either (i) tenure the adjuncts, or (ii) lower the importance of student evaluations when evaluating adjuncts. (i) isn't in the cards, but (ii) should be.

pandering to students said...

11:49: Are you suggesting that I should knowingly permit students to take courses whose pedagogical value are questionable?

I think mr. zero may be suggesting just that, on the grounds that the alternative may well be to punish someone who does not deserve it. Is the adjunct doing everybody (students, self, department, etc.) a disservice? Let's say yes. Is it therefore right to punish the adjunct for it? Quite possibly not -- the teaching behavior is very likely a combination of (a) the fact that this is an adjunct, and therefore someone for whom teaching evaluations are incredibly important (for basic livelihood purposes), not having tenure or even tenure-trackhood to offer job security in the face of poor evaluations, and (b) the fact that, if getting good evals is the goal, the safest bet by far is to make the class easy. Yes, the system is screwed up, but it's because the students have way too much power (thanks to the combination of overemphasis on evals and, more importantly, the curbing of academic freedom (even of the teaching sort) by an overemphasis on adjuncts). This poor guy's probably just stuck in the middle trying to make ends meet.

Anonymous said...

"I think mr. zero may be suggesting just that, on the grounds that the alternative may well be to punish someone who does not deserve it. Is the adjunct doing everybody (students, self, department, etc.) a disservice? Let's say yes. Is it therefore right to punish the adjunct for it? Quite possibly not -- the teaching behavior is very likely a combination of (a) the fact that this is an adjunct, and therefore someone for whom teaching evaluations are incredibly important (for basic livelihood purposes), not having tenure or even tenure-trackhood to offer job security in the face of poor evaluations, and (b) the fact that, if getting good evals is the goal, the safest bet by far is to make the class easy. Yes, the system is screwed up, but it's because the students have way too much power (thanks to the combination of overemphasis on evals and, more importantly, the curbing of academic freedom (even of the teaching sort) by an overemphasis on adjuncts). This poor guy's probably just stuck in the middle trying to make ends meet."

Poor guy? Maybe. But could it also be that mr. "poor guy" is just a shitty teacher? is that possible? or are adjuncts just always victims of the evil system? I've known an adjunct or five in my time...And three of those five were _fortunate_ to be adjuncts (hell, they were fortunate to be teaching at all).

I'm all for compassion when it's deserved...But I'm sorry but I don't presume "desert", especially when there might be evidence to the contrary. (Whether or not there actually is in this case, I'll leave for others to decide.)

Anonymous said...

Let me make myself clear on this issue. My original comment about the adjunct in my department was intended to provide evidence that, yes, students in my school are using RMP to seek out easier faculty. There is clearly some sort of effect that RMP is having on the department and also on student education. In my case there is evidence for this in relation to one particular adjunct in the department. I am not making any claims about adjuncts in general regarding their course quality, rigor, etc., which I expect is often as good as full time faculty or better. I don't have anything against adjuncts in general. Regarding the other issue of whether it is worth letting this particular adjunct go over this matter. That depends on what is more important: a job for this adjunct professor or the education of the 60 students he teaches each semester? Ideally the department head could just speak with him/her and recommend that he/she tighten up the course standards.

mr. zero said...

Look, dude, all I'm saying is, this guy is getting exploited--low pay, no job security, no benefits, etc--and if you complain to your chair he might get fired. Maybe he has a family who would be affected; I don't know. You know more about him than I do, so it's up to you. But put yourself in his position and think about how you'd feel if somebody who makes way more money than you to do the same work squealed on you to your chair. Have you considered just talking to him yourself?

Do what you think is right.

Anonymous said...

1) You don't know for sure that the reason the students are flocking to him is entirely that he's an easy grader, right? Maybe he also, e.g., has a reputation for being charasmatic or a good lecturer.

2) Whatever grades he's giving the students are being reported to the department I'm sure. If his grade inflation is THAT severe (severe enough that you'd be justified in intervening), one would think that it would raise red flags without a busybody such as yourself intervening.

pandering to students said...

Hey 4:19,

Yeah, maybe you're right -- maybe the adjunct sucks and deserves to be fired. That's why I sprinkled lots of hedge words ("perhaps", "probably", etc.) into the mix. But none of the evidence was that the adjunct was a *bad* teacher -- just an *easy* one, and those two need not be synonymous.

At any rate, my point was that mr. zero's "suggestion" wasn't as obviously crazy as the post I quoted made it sound: *if* the choice is between poor pedagogy and firing some schmuck who doesn't deserve it (in large part because he's forced into the poor pedagogy by the various power structures), then go for the poor pedagogy. And the decision may, for all we know, be just that -- the academic teaching situation in the US makes it not unlikely. That's not an insane claim.

Granted, there's no guarantee every situation is one where this is the dilemma in question. If the one under discussion isn't, then the point is moot. But none of the evidence we've seen thus far tells us that we're *not* in this sort of dilemma, so it makes sense to keep the poor pedagogy option on the table.

Oh, and a side note: if it's *deserved*, then it's not compassion. It's just giving someone their due.

apriori said...

How about you talk to the guy. Why don't you do a peer evaluation of a class to see what is going on in his class. Have you looked at the syllabus?

You don't know what is going on and Mr. Zero is right. Don't be a ass by causing problems where there aren't any. If your department is exploiting him, then the department shouldn't expect the same thing from him as they do for you.

If students don't like you and like him, then bummer for you, but you have the TT job, so deal with it, but don't go being a problem when you don't have enough info.

Talk to the guy first.

Anonymous said...

"forced into poor pedagogy by the various power structures..."

this is, quite frankly, ridiculous. my point is simply that the default assumption always seems to be that some poor ass is being "exploited" by the system (see virtually any post authored by zero as evidence). to deny this - in all credulity - is not insane either. which is the point i'm pushing. again, there are a LOT of adjuncts floating around who'd be better served finding another job...due not to - gasp! - the system, but due to their own character, pedagogy, what-have-you.

finally, we need not get into a discussion of how compassion relates to desert, i think. but your cheap shot was well-taken - so congratulations on that.

Anonymous said...

Calling attention to the department head about an adjunct professor who, by the students' own statements, has missed 5 classes last semester, grades excessively easily, always let's class out early, and other things I can't really report, hardly makes me "a busybody", "a squealer", or being an "ass by causing problems where there aren't any." It is quite clear that the adjunct is not merely charismatic but attracting students because his classes are excessivly easy. Having once been an adjunct myself, I have no desire to go around causing problems. But in this situation I worry that RMP (our original topic?) is having a clearly negative effect via this particular situation. I don't see that calling attention to this matter itself is unacceptable or morally wrong. It is the chair's responsibility to handle such matters and he can decide what is the best way to proceed.

Anonymous said...

Flakiness about attendance of course needs to be addressed. But I thought your main complaing had to do with lowered academic standards. And again, that problem has its roots in the weight given to student evaluations for evaluating adjuncts. If you really care about solving the problem, go after eliminating student evals (or at least their importance). The motivation for inflation and lowered standards will then largely drop off.

If some adjuncts still inflate after that (and some no doubt will), there are familiar and effective ways of dealing with them (reminding them of the school's standards, reprimand, and (if this doesn't work) termination of employment).

Mr. Zero said...

a) Any way you slice it, adjuncts get exploited. For example, at each of the two schools Mrs. Zero adjuncts at, the standard FT teaching load is 4-4. The standard adjunct load is 3-3. This slight "reduction" in teaching results in less than half the money, no benefits, and no job security. (Like most adjuncts, her actual teaching load is 6-6, so it's not a real reduction.) Adjuncting is an untenable situation.

b) You are being a squealer. From what I can tell, you're pissed off that this guy is stealing the "sophisticated yet incredibly lazy" upperclassmen from your classes, so you want to get him fired. You really have no idea what's going on in his classes or what his situation is, except what they say on RMP, which we all know is total bullshit. That's shitty, which is why you might consider talking to him personally before going to your chair behind his back.

c) Whatever. Why do you feel you have to justify your actions to us? I think it's because you know we're right. But you don't have to prove me wrong; you have to live with yourself. Do what you think is right.

Anonymous said...

Rationalize all you want, you're still a tattle-tale, and if you were in prison, you'd get buggered for it.

Anonymous said...

9:25 PM,

Your point here is well taken. Flakiness about attendance is one of the problems that's happening. Lowering of academic standards is another. In the latter case the issue is not merely that he inflates but that his course requirements are too minimal to be pedagogically sound. Maybe the cause here is course evaluations, as you suggest, or maybe it is just this particular adjunct's approach. I will have to consider this issue. Whatever the reason, it is clear that RMP is having a negative effect worth considering. This was my original point. Although faculty may not pay much attention to such evaluations, there are clearly effects that such evaluations are having on departments like mine and the education students get.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Zero,

I have never suggested getting the adjunct fired. If you read my post again, you'll see what I said was that ideally the chair could speak with him about the situation. I hardly find that unreasonable.

Mr. Zero said...

I have never suggested getting the adjunct fired... you'll see what I said was that ideally the chair could speak with him about the situation.

I know you're not trying to get him fired. I know that ideally your chair would just talk to him. However, you need to understand that his being fired is a possible consequence of your tattling. A better idea would be to mind your own business; at least then if he gets fired it won't be your fault. Another good idea would be to talk to him one-on-one about your problem with him, without tattling to your chair. That seems like a more grown-up response, too.

I also think it's silly to blame the whole situation on these students's reliance on RMP--you can't possibly know that this is the cause of your freshman-heavy classes--or to take the information you found there so seriously--you know full well that the information on RMP is mostly pure bullshit.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but the welfare of the department and the students' education is my business. As for the other matter you don't know what you are talking about. I can look through enrollments in other departments and in several cases there are extremely high enrollments for particular faculty, and then when examining RMP evaluations in many cases one finds things like: "Great professor, hardly ever comes to class." "The best professor, easy A. I didn't even read the book." "My favorite professor. Slept through class and still got A-." Etc. Yes much of the material on faculty evaluations on RMP is crap, I agree, but that is because students are tracking the wrong variables. The problem here concerns the variables they are tracking and about which there seems to be high consensus. You can look at course listings and find faculty with 18 students enrolled when everybody else has 2, and --lo and behold!-- RMP evaluations claim excessive ease. It is hard to believe that these are not correlated.

Anonymous said...

Wow I can't believe you're not listening to all the good advice you're getting. Either act like a fucking grown up and talk to the offending adjunct yourself or leave the situation alone. And quit being so self-righteous and paternalistic about the students' interests, as though you have some kind of direct access to what's best for them. Take your ego down like four notches.

Anonymous said...

"Adjuncting is an untenable situation."

Then don't f-ing do it.

Anonymous said...

Why do you think the juniors and seniors who you think are looking for the easiest teacher would still take a philosophy class if this guy weren't teaching or if his classes were harder? Wouldn't they just look for an easy class that looks interesting in another department, if all they care about is an easy grade? You could inadvertantly drive business away from your department, cost the adjunct his job, and the students would just migrate to an easy English class and not get any better of an education than they are now. If they want to be lazy, they'll find a way. Throwing one lax adjunct under the bus isn't going to help anything.

On another note, I'm not so sure I would want my own kids to have a teacher who a) snitches on their colleagues (without really having all the facts, none the less), and b) is too cowardly to deal with confrontations personally and so brings in an authority figure to do it for him (but assures himself that 'it's the authority figure's job to deal with things like this'). What kind of role model does that make you? If you remember the ending of Scent of a Woman, you'll know where I'm coming from on this.

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes: "Let them eat cake", right Anon 12:16? That's just precious.

I know it's a detail that's easy to miss, and one that's rarely mentioned on this blog, but there aren't quite enough tt and VAP philosophy jobs to go around these days. But given that this is the case, there are well-qualified people who want to get a tt some day who have to do some adjuncting until they land such a job. I know, I know, hard to believe, right?

I would love to see what would happen if your department eliminated all slave-labor jobs from your department. I'm sure you'd be happy with all the extra teaching and grading, right? What? You wouldn't like that? Oh, I see. You want adjuncts to do all the work you don't like, but you don't want to pay them a living wage, or give them job security or benefits. But that's not enough. You also want them to *keep their mouth shut* about the fact you're doing your part to keep them in a degraded position. Yeah, that's understandable: *Fuck* those assholes; fuck their families too, right?

What a fucking prick.

mr. zero said...

HUA

Anonymous said...

Wow, 3:41, your indignation is impressive, and I'd be happy to leave you to it. Except...well, there's just something fucked up comparing adjunct work to, as you say, "slave labor." I'd think not...Not even metaphorically close.

Geez, what a sanctimonious ass.