Ratemyprofessors.com, the ever-popular website come pre-registration time, ranked Georgetown 13th on its list of highest-rated universities this week.
Based on ratings and comments from students, the accolade is an unconventional but noteworthy achievement. Students take the site seriously in their course picks, for as most students know, it is the professor, not the syllabus, that makes the class interesting — and more importantly, engaging.
But with a prominent disparity between the intimacy of smaller, upper-level courses and the sterility of the professor-student relationship in large introductory-level classes, Georgetown’s model for teaching isn’t as squeaky-clean as the latest rankings make it out to be.
Ratemyprofessors.com does serve a niche role, as the reviews are written by students themselves, the best evaluators of a teacher’s overall quality and easiness. What’s more, the website makes up for Georgetown students’ lack of awareness regarding their access to official end-of-semester statistical course evaluations online. All students, however, need to look at recommendations with a critical eye to avoid being fooled by excessive glowing praise or unmatched hatred.
Yet of course, Georgetown’s higher ranking on a predominately student-driven website should be compared with more professional ratings like those published by U.S. News and World Report and Forbes Magazine. Respectively, these magazines rank Georgetown 21st and 76th, as part of a system formula based on endowment, individual faculty research and the number of graduate schools and programs available — none of which concern undergraduates. Ratemyprofessors.com may take a more populist approach, but that’s its appeal. Simply put, students have little to no interest in criteria other than professor quality.
And at Georgetown, the quality of that faculty-student relationship hailed by ratemyprofessors.com users can be skewed toward upperclassmen at the expense of their younger peers.
Students usually forge personal connections with their professors through their participation in mandatory department seminars and smaller major classes or through working closely with professors on thesis topics. These relationships are grounded in something that undergraduates need most — practical guidance.
But at the entry level, the sort of counsel found in the upper levels doesn’t necessarily come as easily. Freshmen and sophomores face a slew of introductory classes set in large lecture halls, whether it be microeconomic principles, fundamentals of biology, accounting or international relations. While Georgetown is fortunate enough to have highly qualified faculty members for such courses, these professors’ office hours can carry an impersonal, awkward feel by virtue of the class size. Students have the chance to study under the direction of professors who have led extraordinary lives, yet find it difficult to take much away from classes besides coursework.
With 6,000 undergraduates and a limited number of faculty members available, Georgetown maintains a healthy intellectual atmosphere, a fact only bolstered by the ratemyprofessors.com rankings. But this ranking should also be seen as a challenge. The university can take steps to continue cultivating the close connections forged in smaller class settings — all the while calling for improved interactions between professors and students in large lecture halls too.