The website RateMyProfessors.com attracts a lot of attention and criticism. Significantly, student comments on the site are anonymous, with all the unfortunate baggage accompanying this raw fact.
Most famously, contributors can rate professors on how "hot" they are, with a chili pepper icon treated as a coveted badge of hotness. That can hurt. But take heart: You may not be hot, but you can still be cool.
More seriously, random comments could scare away potential students at registration. Teachers who are challenging may attract more negativity. And there is the issue of gender discrimination and other assorted prejudices. Finally, when surveys rely upon "volunteer" contributors, rather than large randomized samples, it skews the results. Only individuals with strong, especially negative, opinions take time to comment. It's not hard to find cranks and even crackpots (there is a difference) on all "comments" sites.
This can happen with institutional student evaluations also—a much more serious issue.
It is probably inevitable that the RateMyProfessors site would be subjected to scholarly scrutiny. Have a look at this study published by Taylor and Francis Online. The researcher is Yuhua (Jake) Liang, assistant professor of strategic and corporate communication at Chapman University.
One added feature of RateMyProfessors is the opportunity of instructors to respond online about the rankings and anonymous student contributions to the site. The new study suggests that professor responses, particularly assurances that students will be treated fairly in the class, can have a positive impact. You can see a nice summary of this and other findings here.
Professors will have to decide for themselves whether to take the bait from RateMyProfessors. Does responding legitimize the site beyond its dubious worth?