The rating site removed its chili pepper feature, which allowed students to judge teachers on their looks, after a Twitter complaint from professor BethAnn McLaughlin went viral.
RateMyProfessors’ chili pepper rating isn’t looking so hot anymore.
The site that allows students to rate professors last week removed its chili pepper category, which allowed students to rate teachers’ physical attractiveness by rating them as “hot” or “not.” The decision came after a Vanderbilt University neurology professor, BethAnn McLaughlin, complained via Twitter.
“Dear @ratemyprofessor, Life is hard enough for female professors. Your ‘chili pepper’ rating of our ‘hotness’ is obnoxious and utterly irrelevant to our teaching,” she wrote. “Please remove it because #TimesUP and you need to do better.”
Life is hard enough for female professors. Your 'chili pepper' rating of our 'hotness' is obnoxious and utterly irrelevant to our teaching.
Please remove it because #TimesUP and you need to do better.
Female College Prof
— Not Mrs McLNeuro (@McLNeuro) June 26, 2018
McLaughlin’s tweet came in response to the rating site soliciting suggestions from its followers. Her request went viral with almost 3,000 retweets and more than 15,000 likes, as professors and teachers across the country chimed in about the sexist nature of the feature. RateMyProfessor took down the rating, tweeting, “The chili pepper rating is meant to reflect a dynamic/exciting teaching style. But, your point is well taken and we’ve removed all chili pepper references from the Rate My Professors site.”
But McLaughlin said it felt disheartening and dishonest that the site referred to the chili pepper rating as an indication of professors’ teaching styles, especially based on its past actions: Each year, RateMyProfessors releases lists based on user ratings, including one for the “hottest professors.” And as an April Fools’ Day prank in 2014, it announced a “DateMyProfessor” site.
“It’s a chili pepper,” said McLaughlin, who is in her 40s. “I think we all know what it means.” The site, when reached by Moneyish, declined further comment beyond its initial tweet.
Most of McLaughlin’s job as a lab researcher centers around meeting one-on-one with grad students or in small groups, and she has never been listed on the website; professors who don’t teach large classes or only deal with individual student meetings aren’t typically included. But throughout her 10 years at the University of Vanderbilt, the implications of the chili pepper feature have bothered her.
“I know a lot of colleagues who teach undergrad classes, and these teachers should be judged by their character and their ability to teach,” she told Moneyish. “This type of feedback they’re getting is not helpful for making them better teachers or telling them if they are relaying their messages properly to students. You should be judged by what you’re doing and how well you’re doing it, and how you look should not reflect that.”
More than four million college students use the site to rate professors each month, and more than 19 million ratings and 1.7 million professors have been added overall. Meanwhile, research has shown that formal student evaluations often put female instructors at a disadvantage: A July study found that when a male and female professor taught an identical online course at the same time, the male professor received higher scores on student teaching evaluations than his female counterpart — even when evaluation questions weren’t instructor-specific.
McLaughlin said that both male and female reactions to her tweet and subsequent removal of the “hotness” rating have been overwhelmingly positive. “It is a movement,” she said. “Things are moving quickly in the sphere of science and people want to find a cause they can fight for. Removing a chili pepper is a tangible thing that we can make happen quickly. Fighting sexual harassment will take time, but we have to start somewhere.”
And now is a critical time to point attention to the general sexism that women face in academia, particularly in STEM, McLaughlin said. More than 50% of female university faculty and staff report having been harassed, according to the National Academies of Sciences’ 2018 Sexual Harassment report, while 20% to 50% of female medical students experience sexual harassment by faculty and staff. (McLaughlin also recently started a Change.org petition calling for the removal of guilty sexual harassers from the NAS.)
“Now is the time in STEM when women are taking a stand,” McLaughlin said, “and saying, ‘We don’t want to be sexually harassed or judged by the way we look.’”
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