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ISSUE 118 VOL 7 PUBLISHED 11/5/2004

Rate before you register

By Phillip Grupe
Contributing Writer


Friday, November 5, 2004

As registration for Interim and second semester approaches, St. Olaf students can be seen desperately compiling lists of possible class schedules for the next academic period. Basing decisions on time of day, content and classmates, many Oles are at a loss when deciding between multiple professors teaching similar courses.

At the end of each semester, students are asked to evaluate professors on their performance, as well as the class material, only to watch the information disappear into the abyss, never to be seen again.

Students like Blaise Douros 07 find it difficult at best to find help when choosing between professors.

Its pretty tough to find friends who have taken teachers Im considering, Douros said. And just one or two opinions still doesnt help much.

Recently a forum has opened to assist students in making informed decisions when selecting instructors. Rate My Professors (www.ratemyprofessors.com), a site initiated by John Swapceinski, allows students to anonymously rate professors at colleges and universities across the country. In addition, students can type a brief comment not covered by the numbers.

The website was founded in 1999, the year Swapceinski graduated from San Jose State University. "I got the idea for the site after taking a class with a particularly dastardly professor who often left students in tears and genuinely seemed to enjoy it," he said.

Students who visit the site can check professors' ratings or rate professors on a one to five scale for helpfulness, clarity and easiness. Although some expect the site to be just a bashing ground,

almost 70 percent of the ratings are positive, according to Swapceinski.

Included alongside the ratings are the controversial chili peppers, used to denote hot professors. A staggering 24 percent of St. Olaf professors merited the illustrious chili pepper, created solely for entertainment purposes.

At present time, ratemyprofessors.com has a total of 968 ratings for 226 St. Olaf professors. One of St. Olaf's highest-rated professors is Dr. John Giannini of the biology department, whose overall rating of 4.7 places him among the elite of the website.

In response to this display of student support, Giannini quipped, Im really disappointed that I didnt get a chili pepper. Commenting on the site in general, Giannini said, What you have to remember is that its very subjective, explaining that students often rate only their favorite or least favorite instructors. One or two unfair comments can wreck a teachers ratings if a number of satisfied students have no strong feelings and dont visit the site.

Gianinni did agree, however, that the site generally proves beneficial to students unfamiliar with certain professors. If I was a student, Id take a look at it, he said.

The site is not without its critics. Some students question the validity of the ratings, especially since users are not required to log in to rate professors. Even the site's list of frequently asked questions states, "Remember, we have no way of knowing who is doing the rating  students, the teacher, other teachers, parents, dogs, cats, etc."

But rather than opening the door to unrestrained libel, this anonymity has provided students a forum in which to voice their honest opinions of professors, which rarely, if ever, border on offensive. As a safeguard, a recently appointed student administrator for St. Olaf reviews professor ratings to ensure that only credible, relevant comments are posted.

This website has proven beneficial to countless students at over 4,000 post-secondary institutions across the nation, with over 2.3 million total ratings posted. And if students here will give the site a little attention, it could become one of the most useful tools in the class registration process.





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