The advent of yet another academic semester is nigh. But I’m sure most SBU students are only too aware of this fact, what from last week’s harrowing escapades. Last week, our little student body enterprise led us into the stultifying conditions of the SOLAR website, and on behalf of Statesman staff and faculty, our hearts reach out to those in need or to any injured party at this time. SOLAR victims remain in our hopes and prayers. Spring enrollment usually provokes an excited atmosphere among college students; an over-eager nature inhabits every undergraduate. Buzzwords like DEC, credit or major put an already wintry, biting climate on edge for the residents here on campus; class shopping invokes a painfully subtle apprehension for the future. To put it baldly, we become acquisitive barbarians during this time of the year (well, more so than we are on an average day). And what an apt demeanor for the holidays it is! To hell with propriety—in lieu of buying others a gift, why not obsess over shopping for the ensuing course load ahead (Happy Holidays)?
But it’s not only the stress from scheduling and the impending holidays that incite an underlying selfish nature from all of us. The expression “shopping for classes” has suddenly been interpreted as “hunting for bargains.” A survival-of-the-fittest ideology plagues the enrollment process. Students think that stratagem and fortuitously timed button pressing will reward them with the best Christmas present: a desirable schedule. We’re willing to jostle, nudge, elbow, shoulder or commit any other unpleasant figurative physical maneuver in order to get ahead of our peers. The SOLAR system formatting even encourages this self-seeking behavior. With categories like “my shopping cart” and “browse course catalog”—there might as well be a “proceed to check out” option.
Despite these materialistic tendencies, I actually kind of enjoy the subtle parallels between SOLAR and Amazon.com—my only complaint (well, I’m sure there are more) is that it is lacking a “customer review” selection. Sure, word-of-mouth is helpful, but this would make Spring enrollment a hell of a lot more entertaining. While SOLAR may not provide this amenity, there are other resources online that students are more than willing to use for class searching. One popular website committed to this purpose is Ratemyprofessors.com.
Ratemyprofessors.com has been known to be a helpful guide in a student’s class enrollment decision. The website is dedicated to a student evaluation of university professors and their method or “style” of teaching. Founded in 1999 by John Swapceinski, Ratemyprofessors.com has been helping students “investigate” any professor belonging to almost any American, Canadian and British institute of higher learning. Each teacher is conferred a rating in a set of categories like easiness, clarity, helpfulness, overall quality and hotness (denoted by a little chili pepper—as if resembling a warning label that may read: caution, product too hot to handle). If said teacher is unimaginably, preposterously attractive, the chili itself is set on fire. It’s even possible to give professors an “average grade”—as if they, themselves, were an assignment, which is barely short of patronizing.
The best and probably most important feature of the website is the comments section, or the desired “student reviews” category I mentioned above. If one were to skim the profiles of the lowest-rated teachers at SBU, concerns about their future education would only heighten. Remarks like “STAY AWAY!!” and “DO NOT TAKE HIS CLASS!!” or even “He Whispers to himself” beset the comments page of the Math Department faculty section. (As easy targets of student aspersions, I worry math professors are growing increasingly vulnerable—and perhaps less audible). A ruthless pleasure is formed from reading these accounts; ratemyprofessors.com proves to be a more thrilling read than any Amazon Product Review ever will be.
However, that’s exactly what teachers have become on this website: product. Simple consumer goods. Does society host such a tolerance for rampant consumerism that it’s now appropriate to treat our own educators as commodity? To be fair, universities are costly. I can understand the idea and use behind such a website; people want the best for what they have painstakingly had to pay for. “Don’t waste tuition money, find another teacher!” a commenter wrote for a Stony Brook sociology faculty member. I don’t think I’m using hyperbole when I say that this sentiment is expressed not only here on campus, but nation-wide; we all more-or-less want the same thing when it comes to an education.
And yet, from the Ratemyprofessors.com perspective, teachers are equated to actual purchases, which I’m not sure is a very appropriate or ethical frame of mind to adopt; this could even be considered a form of objectification. Students are playing with a level of superficial exchange, and could be damaging to a professor’s credibility as an educator. The vogue of shopping for classes has transformed into shopping for teachers. Surely, people must acknowledge that it’s a bit unprincipled to place value on a human being?
But perhaps this assessment is not a fair representation of the phenomenon at hand. In some cases, it has become relatively acceptable for both sides of the spectrum—from educator to student. Since MTV’s College Channel (mtvU) purchased the website in 2007, professors have been able to participate in this peculiar game of rating exchange. Teachers have the option to submit rebuttals in defense to any comment posted on their profile. These confutations can be found under the category, “Professors Strike Back,” which lends itself to utter hilarity.
While the relationship between university faculty and students has become something resembling a market economy (within the limits of propriety), I feel that this behavior is admissible by both parties. Why not have mercenary tendencies in the pursuit of education? It’s a bit fun to view my teachers as something you can purchase at a cash register. I even like to imagine my professor riding the checkout counter conveyor belt upon meeting them the first week of classes (they’re far less intimidating in this particular context).
The crux of the matter is that students are desperate for an enjoyable college experience. Ratemyprofessors.com, while it may not represent a class or teacher entirely accurately, is a fun way to quibble and mock a tireless set of academic conditions forced upon undergraduate students. University students might as well treat it just like any other source they find on the Internet. As for teachers, they should take any posted derisive comments with a grain of salt. This may be a good thing to keep in mind, seeing as eventual teacher-student interaction is non-refundable.