From the ivory tower

Comments on life from inside the university

Location: Canada

Thursday, September 29, 2005


A lot of us have had them. Really bad professors. I don't mean the profs that run difficult courses or those with limited charisma. I mean the really bad ones: the ones who are habitually late, who insult students, who don't really care if the students are benefiting, who don't know the material as well as they should, the ones without an ounce professionalism. The ones that really make class a dreadful experience.

What are the students supposed to do? Complain? They do. But rarely is anything ever done by the administration. Perhaps they'll have a meeting with the professor, and ask him to clean up his act, but as far as the students are concerned nothing gets done. So they wait it out, clench their teeth, hope to make it through the semester, and in future avoid any course taught by this professor. You can hear them lament, "what a waste of money."

The university, regardless of what some of the academic elite believe, provides a service for a fee. And when a single course can cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, it's no wonder that students turn to sites like that allow them to
vent their frustrations, and more importantly prevent other students from making the same mistake. It's even worse for students in smaller, specialized departments where there is only section per class, and there is no way to avoid a bad professor if they are running a required course. Sure, we all had those course evaluations at the end of the term, where we were given our chance to lay into the prof. We were told that our comments were considered, but was anythign really done? Did students of the following year get to read our reviews? At my alma mater, we merely got an average the scores that students assigned to the different categories. That is why a site like is so popular. Students get to read the actual comments of other students. Words provide more substance than a simple numerical avergae.

The university administration doesn't seem to understand how serious of a problem bad professors are, or they just don't care. There are professors, thankfully just a few, who literally do the bare minimum that is required for a course. That is, they do just enough work to make sure there are some sensible marks that can be entered into the database at the end of the year.

It's about time the university administration took stock of the situation. But still, it was no surprise to read in Wired that the university faculty and administration were denouncing sites such as ratemyprofessor. My favourite comment is at the end of the article, when Chet Robie asks "Just because many professors are being paid by taxpayers, does that mean they give up all rights to privacy?" Chet, who said anything about all rights to privacy? I don't care what my prof does in the privacy of his own home, but yes, they should give up the right to privacy of what happens in the classroom. Accountability to the taxpayer is paramount here. Shall we compare the professor's job to other tax-funded positions? No one complains when taxpayers demand their politicians to be accountable. We get to see what happens in congress/parliament on a daily basis. Besides, it can be argued how much of a professor's salary actually comes from taxes, and how much comes from the pockets of the 150 students who each paid $500 for the course.

To and other sites like it, keep up the good work.

What do you think? Any bad-prof experiences you want to share?

And by the way, check out Chet's ratings.