Staff fear bullying on student rating site

March 31, 2006

Academics could be forgiven for thinking that they have more than enough to contend with as research assessment exercise pressures mount and pay negotiations turn sour. Now, a website that allows students to name and shame the lecturers they believe underperform has gone live in the UK.

The site, ratemyprofessors.com, claims that 8 million students from the US and Canada have surfed its content and posted 5 million entries. Thousands of ratings are posted every day.

Comments about US classes and their teachers range from "bring a pillow" to "he will destroy you like an academic ninja" and "I would have been better off using the tuition money to heat my apartment last winter".

There are also glowing reviews. One student claims that her professor has been "one of the formative influences on my life".

As of this week, UK academics will be subject to the same treatment. There are already postings on academics from Manchester and Leeds universities.

Patrick Nagle, the 23-year-old chief operating officer of ratemyprofessors.com, said he expected UK students to base their choices of courses and modules at least partly on the site's postings.

He said: "College students in the US and Canada are able to gauge a professor's performance and decide from what they read which courses to take. They do after all spend between $15,000 and $45,000 (£8,600 to £25,700) a year on their education."

Mr Nagle added: "We do police the site. And we are working on a technical system that pulls abusive comments automatically."

Nonetheless, a few US and Canadian academics have threatened legal action against the site after reading what they believed to be defamatory postings.

An academic at Birmingham University who wished to remain anonymous told The Times Higher that she had reservations about the site. She said: "If this is a bit of fun and gives students a forum to express their views, then that's fine. If, on the other hand, it fuels defamatory comments and lecturers have no opportunity to defend themselves, then I and many of my colleagues would be concerned."

The Association of University Teachers was less positive. It warned that the site could lead to online bullying of academics.

A union spokesman said: "Students who have real concerns about their lecturers would be better off going through the proper channels than posting anonymously. Gossip might seem harmless, but we have real concerns that this could open the way for online bullying of staff to spread through campuses across the country."

jessica.shepherd@thes.co.uk

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