Georgetown was recognized Monday as the 13th highest-rated university in the nation by Ratemyprofessors.com for 2011. Many faculty and students received the news with the same cloud of suspicion that surrounds the website’s popular professor rankings, however.
Ratemyprofessors.com provides the largest collection of college professor rankings online and is visited by over three million students each month. The national rankings were based on a combination of average professor ratings and campus ratings, a recent addition to the website. Brigham Young University and Florida State University placed first and second, respectively.
The rankings show no correlation to size or prestige. Of the top 25 schools in the Rankmyprofessors.com rankings, only two appear in the highly regarded U.S. World and News Report 2011 national university rankings: Georgetown, which is 21 on the list and the University of California at Berkeley, which is 20th on the list.
Georgetown boasts a 4.3 overall school rating on Ratemyprofessors.com, while BYU has a 4.5. Harvard University — the highest ranked school on the U.S. World and News Report list — has a 3.7 overall rating on the website and was not included in the rankings.
This issue draws into question whether ratings for each school’s professors are determined relative to other professors at that institution or to professors nationally.
Undergraduates interviewed said this uncertainty prevents a valid national comparison.
“The ranking has little to no bearing, importance or value as far as assessing a college,” Zosia Dunn (COL ’14) said. She was joined in dismissing the results by Ian Villeda (SFS ’11), who said he stopped using the website to help choose classes because he feels the validity of students posting is unpredictable.
“The rankings mean nothing,” Villeda said. “All it means to me is that Georgetown students really love their professors and are willing to post about it more than other students.”
Yet many students, including Dunn, said they rely on Ratemyprofessors.com heavily when selecting courses. Jess Hubert (COL ’12) said he uses the website frequently but is wary of students who use the forum to vent frustration.
“When I’m looking at the ratings, I’m looking more at specifics like the class and how it’s structured more than I am opinions about the professor,” Hubert said.
Fr. Matthew Carnes, S.J., an assistant professor in the government department, expressed concern with the website’s numerous statistical drawbacks.
“The people who go there are going to be the ones who are highly motivated either because they loved a class or even more likely, because they absolutely hated a class. So you are going to get a sample that is going to be skewed,” he said.
To combat this, Carnes encouraged students to post their opinions online.
“For it to be a useful device for students every student should participate for every class,” he said. “If not, they are going to be enslaved by the people who are motivated enough to do this.”
Stefan Zimmers, a professorial lecturer in the history department, said he too takes the results with a grain of salt.
“The very easy professors tend to get high marks,” Zimmers said. “It all depends on who has a bone to pick. To me that’s not necessarily any kind of real evaluative tool to decide where Georgetown is in the overall scheme of professors.”
Of students interviewed, none were familiar with the campus ratings component, which was added to the website and rankings formula this year. To date, only 53 students have completed this survey for Georgetown.
“If students are aware that it’s going to be used for a national comparison, they are going to rate their school better,” Hubert said.
Most professors interviewed said they favor the faculty evaluations conducted by the university for gauging student feedback.
“I find the faculty evaluations much more crucial and much more critical because you have a wider sample,” Zimmers said.
Despite frustrations with the validity of the website’s statistics, faculty and students seemed unsurprised that Georgetown would receive this honor.
“There are some very committed and talented professors at Georgetown, and they really shine through,” Carnes said. “So that students would recognize that on Ratemyprofessors doesn’t surprise me.”