RateMyProfessors and Subverting Hierarchy
posted by Dave Hoffman
Back in May, Kaimi commented on Prawfs about Ratemyprofessors.com. Law students came somewhat late to the site, but my anecdotal sense is that there has been an explosion in ratings in the last six months. For most law schools in the country, multiple professors are now listed and rated. Most law school ranking sites have an anonymous student “moderator,” which would seem to suggest that RMP is trying to defend itself against defamation suits. If that’s the case, it would be fascinating to see what directions the moderators have received. From a brief review of the ratings of lots of law profs., I can’t believe that the directions are particularly restrictive. There is some nasty stuff out there.
Recently, I came across this article analyzing why undergraduates comment on and use RMP. The money paragraph:
[Students] want to provide information to others, and they also feel part of a community of posters. Primarily, students appear motivated to post ratings for teachers who are perceived as being either very good or very bad. This explains why the number of ratings per professor did not show linear correlation with the perceived quality of that person’s teaching. The data show that the only significant relationship with regard to the number of posts was that of the “hotness” rating. Professors with higher hotness ratings received more ratings on average. However, while perceived hotness seems to relate to the propensity to post ratings, this factor did not seem to affect the average quality rating as there was no significant relationship between hotness scores and overall quality scores. This suggests that perceived attractiveness of professors is related to students’ propensity to post about them, but is not sufficient to influence what is posted.
As far I can tell, the lack of correlation in this study between attractiveness and quality rankings is anamolous.
I wonder what would have happened were law students to be asked why they post on RMP. My suspicion is that law students, unlike undergraduates, are more motivated by feelings of powerlessness and a desire to sanction (with online gossip) professors who take particular advantage of the (conservative) hierarchy that the Socratic dialogue offers. As Duncan Kennedy explained in his little red book, “it is meaningful to oppose [hierarchy] by talking, by joking and refusing to laugh at jokes, through the elaboration of fantasies as well as through the elaboration of concrete plans for struggle.” That is, I bet at least some law students use RMP as a way to implicitly whittle their professors down to size.
But maybe that is giving students too much credit. It’s not clear to me whether the student who thinks that I “bounc[e] around the classroom like a leprechaun” was hoping to subvert traditional ideas of law school classroom management. Maybe s/he just didn’t like me much.