RateMyProfessors and Subverting Hierarchy

Dave Hoffman

Dave Hoffman is the Murray Shusterman Professor of Transactional and Business Law at Temple Law School. He specializes in law and psychology, contracts, and quantitative analysis of civil procedure. He currently teaches contracts, civil procedure, corporations, and law and economics.

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6 Responses

  1. Dave! says:

    Or, maybe you bounce around the classroom like a leprechaun. :)

    I think that the ratings are a good idea. I just checked out the ratings for a few professors I’ve had at my school, and I found on balance that they were pretty accurate, discounting a couple of people who either had an axe to grind or were plants.

    Ratings are a good way to get valuable information–look at Amazon product ratings. I think the average reader is able to discount the extreme (positive or negative) and look at the aggregate for a closer representation of reality.

    I don’t think anyone is trying to subvert anything (only a law professor could think students care that much about law professors)… I think we’re trying to get some information about which professors to seek out and which to avoid when we’re finally free of required courses. Or trying to figure out whether Contracts will suck or not…

  2. Eric Goldman says:

    Actually, I disagree with Dave!–I think polarized ratings don’t provide very useful insights at all. I blogged some more thoughts on this at http://blog.ericgoldman.org/personal/archives/2005/11/are_you_hot_or.html.

    FWIW, RateMyProfessor.com doesn’t need moderators to insulate itself from defamation liability–the 47 USC 230 safe harbor applies irrespective of the presence or absence of moderators. However, the moderators may help stabilize the rating system to prevent it from degrading into junk.


  3. Pupil says:

    I agree with Dave! completely. I’ve never posted on RMP but I’ve found the comments for my old professors to be fairly accurate. It’s easy enough to spot an entry that is over the top one way or the other, and if you filter those out most comments are well within the ballpark of how the prof really is.

    I think you’re really overanalyzing students’ motivations for posting on the site.

  4. Dave Hoffman says:

    Dave and Pupil – the motivations for posting and the motivations for surfing are different. I don’t want to make too much of my D.Kennedy point, because it is easy to oversell it, but I don’t think that students are posting on RMP just for altruistic reasons, or out of a sense of fun.

    In terms of insights, I agree with Eric. RMP listings are likely to confirm your preexisting beliefs – private, non-sample-biased, student evaluations are much better ways to get at mean student opinion.

    Needless to say (?), I think it is usually safe to assume that contracts will not suck. We get to learn about unconscionability. What else could you want?

  5. Dave! says:

    Prof. Goldman: Actually I agree that *polarized* ratings don’t necessarily provide much information. However, in the ratings on professors I’ve had, of a dozen or so posts only one or two were so obviously biased that they could be discounted. The others were either critical without being mean or positive without being sycophantic.

    Prof. Hoffman: I don’t think people are posting out of altruism or fun either. Those that clearly post over-the-top sycophantic boasts are either ass-kissing or plants; similarly, the mean spirited ranting screeds obviously have an agenda, too. I think most students can tell the difference.

    I don’t think students post out of fun–they do so to provide some measure of utility. I think students are perfectly capable of posting informative reviews of professors to provide information so that they in turn get information from others.

    Allow me to pose a question: is the person who posts a review of a vacuum cleaner on Amazon doing so out of altruism or fun? I doubt it. And from the evidence I’ve seen (admittedly purely anecdotal) the ratings on Amazon are a phenomenal success. What about eBay feedback? Another hit. My point is that, yes, you can discount the extremes, but that doesn’t mean students are any less capable of providing accurate information about their classroom experience–not for altruism, for the purpose of building a system that also returns value to them.

  6. lisa says:

    you all are assuming that the people posting reviews on rmp are even students. my gues is about half, if that, are.