- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

Brandon Jank uses two tools when scheduling classes each semester: a University of Idaho course catalog and an Internet connection.
Before he registers, Mr. Jank, a sophomore computer science major, taps into RateMyProfessors.com to "see how teachers are rated, see how hard their classes are, see what kind of teacher they are and how they fit into my paradigm."
Such Web-based evaluations are the bane of some college faculty. Students, however, are using the sites to avoid tedious instructors and classes with, as one entry on ProfessorPerformance.com put it, "tests that were like having your arm cut off by a cold, rusty spoon."
An instructor who made John Swapceinski's life miserable at San Jose State University provided the inspiration for RateMyProfessors.com.
"She was a real ogre. It made me realize that my life for those three to four months would have been a lot different if it hadn't been for her," said Mr. Swapceinski, a software engineer. "If I could have looked [her] up on the Web, I could have avoided all that."
Mr. Swapceinski's site, started in 1999, has nearly a half-million evaluations for more than 113,000 professors at 2,401 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.
Mr. Swapceinski, who doesn't profit from the advertising-free site, said 60 percent of the college postings are favorable to faculty. Kasey Kerber, the founder of ProfessorPerformance.com, estimated that as many as 70 percent of that site's evaluations are positive.
The American Association of University Professors, however, gives a failing grade to those and other teacher-rating sites. The traditional in-class evaluations used by most colleges and universities are good enough, the association said.
"One purpose of student evaluations is to help the faculty to identify general problems and work toward dealing with them," said AAUP spokesman Jonathan Knight. "These kind of postings will inevitably focus on student gripes and have no credibility."
Like many professors, Patrick Thorpe hasn't read the critiques of the biology classes he teaches at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.
Nor does he take the ratings seriously, though there's "a little happy smile" next to his name, Mr. Thorpe noted. That means his ratings are good. Since 1999, Grand Valley's students have posted 23,000 rankings on Mr. Swapceinski's site, nearly 5,000 more than from any other school.
Angela Bickford, a chemistry and physics professor at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville, doesn't object to the generally upbeat reviews for her classroom performance, but she believes RateMyProfessors.com's invitation to rate instructors on another matter sex appeal makes the site less credible.
"Class is easy, and she's soooooooo sexy," volunteered one of Miss Bickford's students, assigning her the Web site's symbol for attractiveness, a hot chili pepper.
Miss Bickford said: "To me, that's not taking me seriously, so I don't put a lot of stock in it. When I get my other student evaluations, I don't get silly comments like that."

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