Stony Brook University prides itself on high rankings, but in some cases, being high up on the list may not be something to brag about.
The Princeton Review ranked Stony Brook as having the fifth worst professors out of 381 universities with comparable academics. The ranking, which came out of a compilation of 62 separate ranking lists in Best 381 Colleges, is based solely on student surveys. The Princeton Review considers currently-attending students to be the real college experts, according to David Soto, the co-author of this compilation of rankings.
In the list “Professors Get Low Marks,” Stony Brook ranked higher, or in this case worse, than fellow New York schools St. John’s University and CUNY Queens College.
Alex Eustace, a junior English education major, recalls a professor who he thinks was particularly bad. “He frequently ended class early by 50 minutes after he would run out of material,” Eustace said.
“A lot of professors don’t do enough,” Woody Chiang, a sophomore biochemistry major, said.
He laughed at the ranking and said he was not surprised at all.
“I had a chemistry professor whose style of teaching was to derail everything, going on tangents,”Chiang said. “It felt more like Professor R. 101: The Story About My Life.”
In Chiang’s opinion, last year, each of the six professors teaching his major-required classes had at least one glaring issue in how they taught, and it appears he is not alone in his discontent.
“Each semester, there’s maybe just one professor I like out of all of them,” Joyce Young, a sophomore chemistry major, said. “That’s not good.”
Young feels that many of her professors don’t seem to want to teach. She can sympathize, though, since she believes many people in science, herself included, are not the most social people.
“It’s weird to speak in front of a group of at least two hundred kids,” Young said.
But there may be another reason some instructors seem like they don’t want to be there: some actually don’t.
University policy requires that all doctoral students teach a class. Some instructors may not have a love for teaching and may just be teaching to graduate.
The Princeton Review’s website experiences high traffic which appears on the first page of results under the Google search “college rankings,” according to Soto. The list is reaching high numbers of prospective college students, possibly affecting their decisions. But is it misleading them?
For the professorial rankings, students were asked how strongly they agreed with the following statement: Professors are interesting and bring their material to life.
Tracy Goodwin, a political science graduate student and professor with bachelor’s degrees in psychology and philosophy, said that the organization would have gotten more accurate results if they had asked more than just one question on the topic. He also noted that the framing of the question could result in some students answering ineffectively.
“Maybe there are professors, very good professors, who don’t exactly bring the material to life, but they’re still enthusiastic and make it interesting,” said Goodwin. “Students may say they disagree with the statement in the survey, but may not think the professor is bad.”
Goodwin also raised the question — is student opinion the best way to rank professors?
“Is a good professor one that is liked,” Goodwin asked, “or one that teaches well?”
The research published in the 2009 study “Evaluating Teaching in Higher Education” by Bruce Weinberg, Masanori Hashimoto and Belton M. Fleisher suggested that the two, being liked and teaching well, don’t always go hand in hand. They found that teachers who prepared their students better for the next course in a sequence got worse evaluations. In the study, evaluations were often influenced more by the grades students received rather than how much they learned in the class.
“Students don’t always like being pushed,” Goodwin said.
Correction Oct. 12, 2016
An earlier version of this story misidentified Woody Chiang as Woody Sea.