Sunday, April 27, 2008

How Sharper Than A Serpent's Tooth It Is...Or Is It? The Radical Rates Rate My

A couple weeks ago, I Googled myself. Admit it: you do it too. But it really is worth doing occasionally if you have become a blogger, because it gives you the illusion that you have some clue as to whether you are being needlessly slandered by others. Strangely, Tenured Radical itself is #5 in terms of hits for "Claire Potter," whereas a paper I gave at the University of Connecticut five years ago is on the top of the list (I suppose because the paper was about J. Edgar Hoover, who is slightly better known than I am.) But imagine my surprise when I saw at spot #3 the phrase: "Claire Potter is arrogant and inflammatory...." Whoa, now. Imagine my further surprise when, upon closer inspection, the post was not located in any place where I am used to being bashed for my politics or my behavior, but on the website faculty love to hate,

Since I asked RateMyProfessors to take it down, I reproduce the text posted on April 5, 2008, in full here:

Claire Potter is arrogant and inflammatory, but also one of the most articulate people I've ever met. Her ideas and lectures are interesting, if offensive and disorganized (she sometimes tells the class she hasn't prepared). If she spent more time engaged with students and reality and less writing her blog, perhaps she'd be more palatable. Well perhaps, but not likely.

While I was at it, I took down this one from last semester:

While Potter is very engaging and clearly knows her stuff, she teaches a very biased view of history (that is, liberal feminiest[sic] history). any conservatives are always "they" and there is far more focus on liberal presidencies-with some scoffing over the kooky reagan years. If we're going to teach History, let's at least try to tell the truth. Yes let's -- like, for example that we spent a week on Barry Goldwater, and subsequently, the last three weeks of the semester on the new conservatism and neo-liberal governance. And all historical figures are "they" to me because -- well, they aren't me. You don't need to know much about object relations theory to know that.

Now, why did I have these comments taken down -- a move which is, by the way, only temporary, since permanent deletion occurs at the discretion of the site managers, who have no idea whether the comments accurately reflect an experience in my class? Well, because I consider them inaccurate and malicious, and I don't want them popping up on random Google searches. There actually is also a little matter of truth at stake here. In relation to the first comment, I have never told a class I was unprepared, although strangely, the day before this "evaluation" was posted, I had lectured the class about their uneven preparation, and given them a little in-class, surprise writing exercise. And as for the second comment I took down, also completely wrong: this strikes me as something that may well have been written by someone who knows about me, assumes that I would teach a political history class in a certain way, but was not actually in the class. This is not the first time I have suspected that people who are not my students comment on me, since several years ago I had RateMyProfessors take down a comment for a class I had not even taught. This took several tries, by the way, and the rating itself remains.

To test my theory that ratings could be posted by people who had never been my students, I went to the dreaded site, and registered myself, under my own name, as a Zenith student. Easy-peasy. The only false information I provided was a birth date that made me 19 years old (I wish!) and the box I checked that affirmed my status as a Zenith sophomore. I then successfully added a rating about myself. You can see it here: it's the anxious looking green emoticon that has the comment "interesting." I thought it only fair to add something right down the middle, neither good nor bad. Inflammatory perhaps, but arrogant never, that's my motto.

Now if I can do this, using my own name and without setting off any alarm bells on the website, what this means is that anyone can register as anyone and leave an evaluation -- for anyone -- that says anything. That's right. You could do it from prison if you had internet privileges, or from Afghanistan, if you were just farting around in between avoiding the Taliban. So think about that the next time you go into a class feeling insecure and betrayed because someone has posted something nasty about you on RateMyProfessors: it might not even be one of your students who did it. Furthermore, it makes you wonder -- when most professors have fewer than a dozen ratings, if someone has amassed an unusually high number -- sixty or seventy say -- who the heck is actually adding them? Can it really be students?

RateMyProfessors does not address the question of verification anywhere on its site, nor does it even suggest that it is possible for a person who is not actually your student to post a review of your teaching. But it does have a page where the site managers tell you what you can do to correct an unfair comment (other than post a video of yourself telling your students how wrong they are, a new feature called "Professors Strike Back" that is designed for those of you longing for your own reality show.) You can also ask that the comment be reviewed by the site managers as false or defamatory, as I did with the comments above: when it is, should they decide not to put it back up, the rating itself remains, something they don't tell you. But what else can you do? Why you can give them more publicity! As they explain:

"The best thing you can do is write an article about the site in your school paper. This ALWAYS has a huge impact on the number of ratings and makes the site become less entertainment oriented (an admission that selling advertising is the actual point of this website -- duh) and more of a resource for helping you plan your class schedule. Other things you can do is post flyers around campus, post links to the site on message boards that are school-related, and email your friends about the site."

Other than friendly advice on how to make a complete fool of yourself, this speaks to what I think is the central feature of the site. Students need to be highly motivated to use it, and normally they are motivated because they really like you or, conversely, they are getting revenge for some imagined or unimagined insult by writing something spiteful in public. The suggestion that professors themselves should mobilize students to "tell the truth" about their classroom experiences I find just bizarre and manipulative. I mean, who would do that?

But this isn't the only problem with RateMyProfessors from my point of view, or even the one that deserves serious attention. The problem is that, while accepting employment at a college or university means that you agree to the principle that your teaching will be evaluated as part of your contract with the school, none of us have any obligation to have things written about us by God Knows Who on a site that is completely and utterly commercial. Furthermore, the site can do whatever it wants with the ratings -- including, if it desires, publish a book based on the "data" it collects. The Terms of Use state explicitly that everything posted to the site is owned by the site and, while posters are warned that they may not do anything that violates civil or criminal statutes, by rules they themselves have established, RateMyProfessors claims that it may reproduce anything on the site without restriction. I'm sure that this is boilerplate copyright language, and I am equally sure that the site manager's refusal of liability is unenforceable, but the point remains that we -- the faculty -- are the ones whose work and identities are the substance of the site. And we have not been asked for our permission for "data" to be collected and published about us.

But that said, corporations are not this powerful: I think universities and individuals probably have the legal right to have themselves removed from, or to opt-out of, this site. If I knew how to do it I would, just on principle. Like Facebook, it is nothing but a crude marketing device in drag, where getting you on the site and keeping you there for as long as possible is the real point.


Anonymous said...

It would be better, of course, if it did not have the shortcomings you mention, but from a student's point of view, it's a way to get some idea of what you're in for if you take courses from a certain professor. Needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but from a student's point of view, considerably better than nothing. Does Wesleyan not take and post its own student evaluations of teachers? If not, maybe they should -- then you could be sure that the posters are your students, etc. I would think that student feedback would be very useful to you, particularly since most college-level teachers don't seem to get much instruction in the art of pedagogy.

Tenured Radical said...

Wesleyan has evaluations that faculty have access to, and they are useful -- but they are long, involved, and ask very specific questions about different aspects of the teaching and the course.

There used to be a student course review, and there no longer is, which is really too bad. However, it is also the case that at a place as small as Wesleyan, word of mouth is far more effective for students than RateMyProfessors: in my case, there are twelve evaluations on RMP, when I have probably taught well over 700 students since RMP started. And the opinions about me -- pro and con -- are going to be far more diverse than those currently represented. Particularly when a student is writing about the tone of a classroom, you need to know -- did the 70 other people in the room experience the semester that way, or do I get on the nerves of one person?

And I'm not sure some information -- when there is no context, and the questions asked are so very basic, and the comments are so idiosyncratic -- is better than nothing. It's so typical of the web that utterly random responses
acquire authority when you have no idea where they have come from.


Paris said...

My RMP page has acquired a series of homophobic comments from students angered by my treatment of them. It had not occurred to me to request them to be taken down, as I doubt the staff of RMP would have the guts to remove inappropriate comments. At first I was curious about RMP postings, but now I rarely look at it.

Anonymous said...

Rate My Professors is a site that has zero credibility for all the reasons you cite, TR: no verification of anyone's identity or connection to an institution, so any random jerk can say anything about anyone. It's a place where angry students go to complain about someone without consequences, so who would take that seriously? (Hooray for the non-peer reviewed World Wide internets!)

If anonymous (or any student) thinks the information is useful, then ze gets what ze deserves if ze uses it as a serious tool in course selection. I always thought the best way to evaluate a class was by attending it the first day or two, collecting the syllabus, looking over the books, requirements, and assignments, listening to the professor's lecture and style of engagement with students, and then making up my mind if it would be worthwhile or not. I wish I had followed my instincts on courses I thought I *had* to take because the topic was interesting to me, but the professor (and the syllabus) was not. I knew that on day one--but hoped against hope that it would turn out differently. Classes that seemed fun and stimulating on day one also turned out to be that way, if not every class meeting, more often than not. Word of mouth is helpful, but not determinative--students have to consider the tastes and interests of the students whose words they're listening to. Students who try to take shortcuts around finding the right classes will get results equal to their minimal efforts.

Anonymous said...

Reading your comments about Rate My Professor reminds me of listening to librarians complain about Wikipedia. If you want to see something really alarming, check out Juicy Campus. Welcome to the postmodern world -- and get used to it!

GayProf said...

The problem with such sites to my mind (and even, to a certain extent, other forms of student evaluations) is that students' imagined desires for a class are not always compatible with the purpose of teaching. So, students will sometimes shop for a class that is "easy," but that easiness will come at the expense of being educated (the point of their attending college in the first place). Some students feel that being exposed to any viewpoint other than their own is "biased" teaching rather than acknowledging that an important part of a college-level education is learning how to grapple with different ideas and viewpoints.

But, then, universities are now consumer-based. We, as professors, provide a paid service and are expected to make it entertaining. Do you want fries with that history survey?

Tim Lacy said...

If RMP had any credibility, they would warn users---on every single page---that comments on professors can technically come from anyone: the instructor's mother, father, sister, sworn enemy, dead presidents, lovers, mistresses, etc. So, timewasters should beware.

Noting that "the inflamed"---both positively and negatively---often posted ratings, I would encourage regular students, via e-mail, to post something ~after the term ended~. This resulted in my ratings moving closer to what they would be on the required paper evaluations used by my institution. But the key is ~after~ the term, when the idiots had dropped (their stamina is low), so that the ratings look reasonable.

But because not everyone uses my RMP strategy, I stand by my recommendation in paragraph one. - TL

jackie said...

The day "hotness" and "easiness" became rateable categories is the day that commercial evaluations of professors lost all credibility. And I say this as someone who does indeed possess a chili pepper on my ranking at RMP.

I've been teaching this idea in my class this week-- interactivity is only truly democratic when its aim is not a commercial aim with a large and siginificant imbalance in the power/gains aspect. In other words, students evals at a university where they are part of the community shows/rewards their investment in that community AND no third-party entity is making $$ off them. Not so, RMP.

Clio Bluestocking said...

I confess to having given a friend a chili pepper because he was depressed that his less attractive colleague had received one.

Anonymous said...

I despise RMP. However, just like with the jobs wiki, in a situation where little reliable information is easily available, people turn to unreliable information if it is available. Don't like RMP? Come up with a reliable alternative.

Anonymous said...

I teach with a woman who touts herself as a rigorous, hard grading professor. When you look at her profile, she has quite a few "easy A!" comments.

We talked about RMP in one of my classes, and the students seem to feel that RMP is THEIR website that only THEY should be visiting. I suggested that as professors, we should start a "Rate My Students" website, where we evaluate students based on work ethic, appropriate dress, class participation, etc. Then, those of us that teach permission required courses could see what we are getting into. You can imagine what the pouting and whining was like.

LumpenProf said...

There's a recent article in IHE that addresses some of these concerns. The study cited found that RMP may be more representative than it seems. I've also posted more about it.

Anonymous said...

Gay prof is correct. I my institution (a state university in Ohio), the administration relies heavily on teaching evaluations. When they come back with low scores, you need "adjust your teaching to more meet the likes and desires of the student."

Can someone answer this question: Instead of complaining to the professor or administration about how hard a class is and how much work it is, why don't students complain to the lazy professors that they aren't being worked hard enough?

Anonymous said...

Hey cahulawasseee river cat--there *is* a site called It's snarky and usually pretty hillarious, but students can rest assured: none of the posts use their actual names or locations, unlike RMP.

Anonymous said...

Yo TR,

Why are you trying to silence the opinions of your students? What is the threat if you believe yourself to be correct? Dissent is fine and necessary in academia, so why don't you focus on the students who praise you for your teaching abilities? It seems as if you are threatened by any negative feedback. You consistently mention the privilege of your tenured position at Wesleyan, so what's the big deal? If you know you're right, just have a sense of humor and shrug these comments off. Either way, word of mouth is just as or more powerful than a comment on some rating website. This post just proves your insecurity and arrogance, and you will probably remove this comment because it goes against what you are saying which further proves my point. Have a nice day!

Tenured Radical said...

Dear 4:27,

First, if I am insecure, what's wrong with that? And I can't be insecure and arrogant at the same time. You have to pick, otherwise you're just trying to goad me with random insults.

And the reason I took the RMP comments down is in the post: because I consider them inaccurate and malicious, and I don't want them popping up on random Google searches. There actually is also a little matter of truth at stake here. In relation to the first comment, I have never told a class I was unprepared, although strangely, the day before this "evaluation" was posted, I had lectured the class about their uneven preparation, and given them a little in-class, surprise writing exercise.

It would be like writing "anonymous 4:27 is a silly little needle dick," but using your real name, so that every time your name popped up, there was that thing about you being a needle dick -- which is, I am sure, not true.

Some people in the blogosphere have the idea that anything can be said on the internet, whether it is true or not, a standard, by the way that is not liberal enough to include those of us accused by a large number of people of spreading falsehoods in the press and on blogs about the Duke lacrosse team.

Do *you* like being insulted and lied about dear heart?


Cairo Cowboy said...

As a student at Zenith, I can understand your frustration over having negative reviews pop up when you are googled. Yet I also feel that by interfering on RateMyProf you are skewing the data.

Just as with any advice, RateMyProf is usually taken with a grain of salt; and it is up to the student to seek other--potentially more reliable--sources of information (though for freshmen these ratings are sometimes the only information readily available). Perhaps a compromise is an in-house system, like e-squid, which the faculty have effectively shut down by denying the Zenith Student Assembly the ability to upload course data from the catalog. Such a system would mean that only authenticated users would have access to the information (i.e. no hits on google) and that ratings could be limited to Zenith students.

Or we could just publish teaching evals.

Tenured Radical said...


My only quarrel with you here is that there is a difference between data and invective that contains misinformation -- and also that RMP is not designed to produce data, it is designed to produce constroversy so that it can sell advertising. Also, if data is not produced under controlled conditions it isn't data.

Anyway, there's still the little frowny-face for students to see: maybe they will make up something even worse about me for lack of a comment.

That said, I think that the faculty is wrong in the matter you describe, and if you come see me, I will help you take it up with New President. Students do have a write to publish their opinions about classes and faculty in a way that is responsible and accurate, and it is mean of the faculty to put barriers in their way.


Anonymous said...

I applaud your candor, TR. We all know profs who are insecure and arrogant but would never admit it. Hell, we are all insecure and arrogant in our own way but few are willing to admit it.

The millennial students hear what they want to hear and turn it into the "truth." Your students heard your lecture about preparedness, and immediately told themselves that they were not prepared because you were not prepared. It's your fault, not theirs. Therefore, according to the millennial logic, you admitted to not preparing for class and that is determined to be the "truth." Then, the "truth" is disseminated on RMP so others can make learned decisions about future classes.

Benedict incorrectly refers to RMP as data. Let's not go that far. TR has not skewed any scientific study or data by asking the posts to be reviewed. There is no guarantee that TR's request will be granted.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has TA'd for many professors but has never posted on TMP, I just want to say that most of the negative comments I've seen about professors have more than a grain of truth to them. I think it's a useful site.

Anonymous said...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Or did ze forget?

Tenured Radical said...

Anonymous 9:13:

Did you mean ze or "you" -- meaning me?

Anyway, that's Congress. There are other rules for private spaces. And freedom of speech does not include the freedom o disseminate false or defamatory information.

And anonymous 7:34 -- does truth come in grains?

Enquiring minds want to know. And why is it that students are so invested in their powerlessness anyway? Why not just wait until you get your grade, then say the shitty thing face to face?

But as I say -- there is no proof that these really are students.


Plain(s)feminist said...

Perhaps a compromise is an in-house system, like e-squid, which the faculty have effectively shut down by denying the Zenith Student Assembly the ability to upload course data from the catalog.

Benedict and TR - so how does this shut down the students' ability to review courses? In the '80s, we had a printed publication, The Squid's Eye View. Why can't there be something similar now?

Anonymous said...

We have no proof that they are students but c'mon, most of the time they are going to be students. I'm not so paranoid as to believe that random people are going to be that interested in insulting a professor when they've never taken a class.

What's nice about RMP is that, instead of saying the "shitty" thing face to face, you say it so others can see it and use it to determine whether or not they would like the class.

And by the way, the two comments you posted were hardly "malicious." They were ideologically-skewed in their own right but they didn't cross any lines that I could see. It's just some kid expressing an opinion. Why don't you lay off and stop trying to serve as speech police for the Internet?

Anonymous said...

Claire Potter. I was in your class recently. I have to agree with some of the people who have posted disagreeing with you. I do think that you have a tendancy to teach the class in a peculiar manner.

comments like the following:
That's right. You could do it from prison if you had internet privileges, or from Afghanistan, if you were just farting around in between avoiding the Taliban.

are conservative and propagate the evils you claim your fighting. you need to remember your grays. very politically charged and innapropriate.

And why is it that students are so invested in their powerlessness anyway? Why not just wait until you get your grade, then say the shitty thing face to face?


Anonymous said...

"And why is it that students are so invested in their powerlessness anyway?"

Maybe because some instructors like you abuse their power and write off their students as they choose to exploit the power dynamics involved between the two. But you're the one the the PhD therefore us undergrads should remain silent in our opinions. I want to ask you this then: why is is that some faculty are so invested in their powerlessness in relation to the administration?

"Why not just wait until you get your grade, then say the shitty thing face to face?" Ok, if grades are the driving force behind academics, then you should reexamine your position as an educator.

And Claire, I am a student posting this. I have had you as a teacher, and from a student of color's perspective, I will only remember you as embodying what is stereotypically terrible about Wesleyan.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear 9:45 and 10:56,

Well, since you are anonymous, I still don't know that I am talking to my students, but:

I took the comments from RMP down because they weren't true. No one has an unlimited right to publish things about someone else that aren't true, and in more serious circumstances, civil suits arise from people having said or published things that are baseless and damaging. At the very least, the person who has been written about falsely has a legitimate right to take action so that they are not persistently embarrassed by a random Google search. I don't see why this is so hard to understand.

And as for both of you, your comments about my teaching are so vague, that I still don't know what you are talking about. You need to distinguish between this blog and my classroom: no one makes you read this blog, no one grades you on it, and my students aren't in it. If either one of you is responsible for the RMP comments, then you gave up your right not to be written about when you posted to that web site.

I am rarely called conservative, 9:45, and don't see what you mean about that comment being conservative -- offensive and sarcastic perhaps, but conservative no. And anonymous student of color -- are you saying that I am the epitome of Wesleyan racism? Really? Because that is a big fucking deal to say about someone, and you had better speak to a dean about it if you have reasons for believing that I am systematically racist in my teaching.

For both of you -- and any other student reading this: the point of evaluating teaching is not to take revenge on someone, or call them names under cover of anonymity, or participate in a consumer protection survey, or to have some outlet for your anger at the institution, or even to warn other students away from teachers. The point is initiating a civil dialogue about the classroom that allows students and teachers to discuss the conditions under which learning takes place. And it needs to happen under conditions that actually pinpoint issues and make them discussable. Saying that my teaching is "peculiar" tells me nothing -- except perhaps that you don't understand what is going on, in which case you need to come to office hours and sort that out. Saying that I abuse my power tells me nothing -- except that you feel powerless, which may or may not have anything to do with me.
I can't tell.

Both of you need a little anger management if you ask me: just because you pay tuition, doesn't mean you have the right to be rude and destructive. That is, if you actually are students.


PS. Plains Feminist -- I agree, they don't need to upload the curriculum to have a review. They could just organize it and do it.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:56 and 12:29 have attended a university but obviously have not worked for a university. Some profs will go to the edge of the earth to throw dirt on the faces of their fellow academics. It is not uncommon for professors to access the RMP profile of their nemesis and post negative comments. The opposite is also true: profs access their own profiles and insert positive comments and the chili pepper.

Re grades and feedback, look at the research. There are correlations between grades, looks, and dress/clothing style and good/bad student ratings.

What you don't realize now is that TR's courses have exposed you to a different perspective and outlook than you are probably used to. That's why you don't like her. Intellectually, you grow with adversity. You probably got more out of TR's course than you would have gotten from any other course. This is evidenced by your ability to recall her quotes and opinions. Could you recall this information from some lazy prof who gives you a dry lecture for 3 hours a week?

Obviously you don't need RMP to tell you how TR's courses operate. You should understand by now that we live in a free country. Therefore, you are free to not take TR's courses.

Anonymous said...

All I can say from reading the comments supposedly left by students, is that it is no wonder Wesleyan has a reputation for being such a vicious bastion of political correctness, that is full of rich kids mouthing off to everyone they disagree with. At my state university, we would never speak to teachers like this, even if we really disagreed. I can't even figure what your gripe is with this professor or her classes. You guys are really not articulate.

Anonymous said...

Tenured Radical,

I am "anonymous at 9:45." Please read my post more carefully. I never said I was a student of yours or that I went to Wesleyan. I am not a student of yours and do not go to Wesleyan. I also did not call you "conservative." My point is that you are being overly-sensitive about students using an open forum to express their opinions about your class. What is the "malicious" content of these posts that you wish to have excised? That you are a liberal feminist? That you are biased? Arrogant? That's all somebody's opinion. It's not "false." You can't prove it wrong.

Furthermore, both these posts also praised you as someone who "is very engaging and clearly knows her stuff" and "one of the most articulate people I have ever met." Why are you so touchy about this? These reviews aren't even that bad but you act as if you are being slandered horrendously. Seriously, don't you have better things to do than to try to police this kind of innocuous banter? Or is it that you have a difficult time handling criticism?

Anonymous said...

"Both of you need a little anger management if you ask me: just because you pay tuition, doesn't mean you have the right to be rude and destructive."

You've inspired me to start a blog so I can voice myself and deal with my anger. Actually, wait...I did that in my early teenage years. And thanks for providing students with a preview of your personality and teaching style with this post!

Tenured Radical said...

Dear 9:45:

You are right -- it wasn't you who called me conservative, it was 10:56. But I think I said that in the comment. It is, however, so confusing when none of you righteous folks uses your names.

But all of you who think that RMP is no big deal -- probably because you are not on it -- miss the point. It's my name; I have not agreed to be on the website, eiher to be insulted or praised; RMP is not a legitimate evaluation tool; and there is no responsible monitoring of the website to ensure that the people who add comments there are actually my students. It is a marketing device that is actually designed to cause conflict (like this) between teachers and their students. And if wrong informaiton is posted, how does that help a student make a decision as to whether to take a class with me?

Do I like to be criticized and be called names by anonymous people? Not especially. I would really rather the people who are doing it on this post and others stop. I am who I am, and no amount of insulting me is going to change that one way or another. I'm not sure why it should. Call me arrogant: okay, *you* are an asshole. We could go on like that forever. And if a real student has a *real* gripe with me -- as opposed to making me the object of hir projective identification and rage towards authority figures -- I can't imagine how it would be resolved, addressed or corrected through an anonymous posting.

What a very few self-professed students have posted about me here and at RMP is nothing but name calling, and an attempt to counter my so-called "power" over them (whatever that means) by exerting "power" over me by putting nasty things up on the internet anonymously. Other people would call that cowardly and immature. And even if insults are coupled with praise, so what?

You know, over a year ago, when I was pseudonymous, I wrote about something that happened in a class that I thought was funny, and the student -- who I did not think could be identified, because I didn't think I could be identified -- was terribly hurt. It taught me a huge lesson about the power of representing others publicly, even when you don't mean to do harm, and I have never written explicitly about students or colleagues since. And yet a very few of our students at Zenith (and I am sure at other schools) deliberately do to their professors what they would be devastated by were it done to them *by* a professor, intentionally or unintentionally. And they justify it by saying it's ok because they have "less power."

This is why a lot of people outside and inside the Wesleyan communitiy think that some of our more vocal, self professed "political" students are narcissistic, self-absorbed and utterly full of shit.

That said, most of our students aren't full of shit, and are caring, introspective people. It should also be noted that I actually don't care what people who wish to remain anonymous think: I only care about what people I know and respect, and who want to have a relationship with me, think. I will continue to erase insults written about me on my blog, as I say I will in the blogger ethic, and I will continue to ask that things posted on RMP that are untrue be removed. Opinions are not all true, you know, and just because someone experiences me in a certain way does not make them correct that I actually *am* that way.


Oso Raro said...

Wow, um, someone touched a nerve here, that is for sure. Just the risks of public blogging I suppose, but also strangely indicative of the very problem with RMP that TR attempts to disentangle in her post. Recently, a student posted a critical (i.e. nasty) comment about me on my listing on RMP. I flagged it, and forgot it.

In some ways, the positive things about RMP are overshadowed by the invective that can sometimes be hurled on it. And it really isn't a question of the powerful versus the powerless: in my experience, students weild quite a lot of power in certain situations, a fact some students, especially those at elite and quasi-elite institutions, don't really want to see, for it disrupts their self-narrative.

In spite of some reservations, I fall on TR's side of the coin here, both in terms of the misuse of RMP as a platform for retribution as well as scrupulously defending one's reputation on it.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Zenith trolls,

Boy, and you wonder why chalking on sidewalks was banned. This is why: because, although the vast majority of Zenith students are decent, wonderful people, there are a few of you whose sense of personal privilege to say whatever you want to whomever you want knows no bounds. The day I stopped suporting chalking was the day one of you referred to a colleague of mine as a "cunt" in front of her office building (and then started sending her pornography over the internet from anonymous Yahoo accounts), and it looks like that is exactly where we are heading here. Your capacity to throw rude little tantrums makes me embarassed for Zenith, and for those who are associated with you.

I just removed three comments left in the middle of Saturday night: if the students who left them were *not* drunk or stoned, the messages are particularly unforgiveable. I hope I never find out who you are. Zenith students need to be reminded that this space does not belong to them, and that paying tuition does not give them the privilege of telling their teachers what they can and cannot say or do or think. I have a position on this; it is different from yours; live with it and rspond to it thoughtfully, or don't read the blog. It isn't *for* you: it is for my peers, many of whom are adults, but many of whom may in fact be students. Any subsequent coments that are not engaged or constructive, that insult me or misrepresent my work and relations with others, will be removed.

And the writer who was sitting with three people who think I am a "total bitch" as ze wrote hir nasty comment; and the one who said the consequence of my refusal to agree with or defer to a group of incoherently angry students who insist on being anonymous was that the word will spread that people should not take my classes: please *don't* ever take a class of mine. Drop the one you are in if you can bear telling Mommy why you have a W on your transcript. Do tell your friends to stay away, if they are people who support and emulate your rude, aggressive, childish behavior. Any student who is referred to this post and thinks that this explosion of hostility towards someone who has done nothing to them other than write or say something that they disagree with, in class or out, is reasonable -- do *not* take my classes. Tell your friends who agree with you *not* to take my classes. Tell people who resort to anonymous invective when a teacher does not cater to their views *not* to take my classes. Tell people who can;t speak their minds unless they know in advance that the teacher agrees with them *not* to take my classes. I did not go into this business to coddle students who resent authority, manage temper tantrums or defend myself from random attacks from people too cowardly to leave their names.

And now, at least until school is over, I am disabling the anonymous comment function. I left it on so that students could comment on the blog, but since it has been abused by a few trolls in the Zenith student body, I think it has become a hindrance to civility on the blog, as well as to finishing the teaching year in good order.


Zach said...

wow! intense comments.
TR, how do you know the three saturday night comments were Zenith students?

My mother is a professor, and feels deeply affected by her rmp comments. Anything that shows up when you google yourself is big! I admit that I've gone on there and given her a chili pepper--I think my sister may have, too.

rmp is silly and I think most students know that. Esquid was great, but it's so out of date.

I still feel bad about a terrible evaluation I gave a prof once. He never taught at wes after that, and I worry that my evaluation affected that. The class was pretty terrible (disorganized, relying far too much on students teaching other students), but I could have been nicer in how I said it. The prof was a nice guy.

Tenured Radical said...

I knew they were Zenith students because they said so. Unless they are people from somewhere else pretending to be Zenith students, but they insisted that was not the case.

Given some of my colleagues its hard t imagine I am the most unbearable teacher they have ever had -- but it probably depends on your standards.

: )


PS. TR *never* uses emoticons. Ze is just glad to hear from you.

JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, it seems to me that there is a fundamental disconnect reflected in many of the posts here. Zenith students are your customers. If you don't want to wait on and please the rich spoiled kids who you are making your living off of, why not transfer to a place that doesn't have such kids -- say, a community college? Your position, and that of several others here, reminds me of that of the Victorian radicals in England who promoted socialism while living off of their trust funds.

Tenured Radical said...

Dear JDB,

But wouldn't the CC students be my customers too?

And anyway, my point is that being on RMP is not something I agreed to when I contracted to teach at Zenith, and because there is no contract, they do not have unrestricted freedom, unmoderated by any ethic or professional norm, to defame me -- or be a platform where others do. Because I have a way of restricting it, I do.

Anyway the customers get very detailed, year-end evaluations to fill out where they can go hog wild with their opinions if they choose. I think it is significant, however, that whether negative or positive, evaluations done through the university are taken very seriously by students: criticisms are backed up by detail, and they are often put in context of what the student brought to the course intellectually, ideologically and in terms of work ethic. The RMP "evaluation" has room for about forty or fifty words max, and asks the student to respond to eight very vague questions.

It's debatable whether I work "for" the students or not -- I *know* I don't work for RMP.


Plain(s)feminist said...

Zenith students are your customers. If you don't want to wait on and please the rich spoiled kids who you are making your living off of, why not transfer to a place that doesn't have such kids -- say, a community college?

I don't think "rich spoiled kids" is a particularly apt description of Wesleyan students as a whole. There are certainly those, but I don't think Wes has more than its share. There were spoiled rich kids at the state u where I went to grad school, and although Anon 12:00 has had a different experience, they were more likely to challenge faculty than were Wes students. The difference is that the state students complained about getting too much work. At Wes, they were more likely to challenge faculty for not having an inclusive curriculum.

JackDanielsBlack said...

plain(s)feminist, my point was that many faculty at elite liberal-arts schools seem to be biting the hand that feeds them. They seem to have contempt for the partying, lacrosse-playing rich kids on campus, and these kids return the compliment. How else to explain the mutual loathing on view at Duke and in some of the comments here? All I'm saying is that if you can't respect your students, you should find a place to teach where you can respect them -- otherwise, you are wasting their time, your time -- and your life.

And yes -- there are plenty of rich spoiled kids at state universities -- at community colleges, not so many!

Tenured Radical said...

Dear Jack;

OK, you tipped your hand with the lacrosse comments.

First of all, the cc students are still customers -- more so, perhaps, since they and not their parents are more likely to be footing ht bill. Parents who pay tuition usually believe that they -- and not their children are the customers.

But let me emphasize my point -- it's RMP I dislike. It isn't. And actually, I am very fond of my students -- strangely, I am often very fond of students who want to be in struggle with me, since re-articulating oneself in the face of hostility is important for ongoing intellectual growth, and raging against authority is important to *their* intellectual and personal growth.

I just don't want that encounter to occur on a commercial website devoted to selling ad flashes, because it is destructive rather than constructive (witness one student commenter getting frustrated and announcing that the problem is that I am a "total bitch.") Whether I am a total bitch or not is not the issue (maybe s/he meant a "total butch," which would be the case.) What is the issue is whether that student is learning -- why or why not.


JackDanielsBlack said...

TR, I just went back and looked again at your RMP entry. I noticed that you now have a smiley face next to your name, as well as a chili pepper. Isn't it amazing what a little complaining can do!

By the way, if I were a student reviewing your entry, I would be more impressed with the obviously sincere favorable reviews than with the negative ones. And I would come away with the impression that your courses are hard but interesting, which is probably close to the truth. All in all, I think the discerning student can get a pretty good idea of what he or she is in for by going there and applying a few simple rules, such as looking for a reasonable number of comments and ignoring outliers.

I am not sure what you mean by "you tipped your hand with the lacrosse comments". Is "lacrosse" a forbidden word in your world?

Tenured Radical said...

Now Jack, don't start the lacrosse thing again -- I am just saying that I acquired a fair number of lurkers from A Certain Website that can probably be found immediately by googling the keywords "Duke," "lacrosse," and "innocent." And that many of the devotees of that websites seem to assume that faculty at elite colleges "hate" their students, and then proceed from that assumption to judge us. So glad this is not your point of view!

If you are a lacrosse fan/player, I hope your team is doing well.


JackDanielsBlack said...

Claire, actually, if I wanted to get to the website you are alluding to, my best bet would be to google "Claire B. Potter" rather than "Duke lacrosse innocent". Alas, whatever is the case on Rate My Professors, you will be ever linked in the blogosphere to the case alluded to in the website over which we shall draw the cloak of charity.

Tenured Radical said...

We can only hope people move on eventually. Peace, brother.


JackDanielsBlack said...

Pax vobiscum, et cum spiritu tuo.

Anonymous said...

Oh how I wish I'd never come across my name (in a google search, of course) attached to this ridiculous website. I was shocked to read some of the negative things said about me - especially in light of the fact that for the past 15 years my official student evaluations have been overwhelmingly positive. Well, you know something is very off when there are five comments from students at an institution where you taught for 9 years! I do know that a member of a search committee at my current institution used "Rate My Professors" to check up on a candidate. This is the danger of these kinds of crappy sites - they do get used (like Facebook does) by institutions in hiring processes. But, come on! Five postings in 9 years?! What kind of evaluation is that? Moreover, at my first institution my department is listed as Political Science. I was a Media Studies professor. It is a laughable and ridiculous site; however, it is also capable of doing damage if search committees are using it to "research" candidates (which, as I said, at least one is). It's grotesque that you can't get your name taken off that site. And I can tell you, after reading my own evaluations, I know that students who think they are getting an idea of what "they are in for" when they take a class for me after reading the few remarks about me on Rate My Professors are in NO way getting an accurate picture. They should read the real course evaluations and avoid this site like the plague.

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