Why College Professors Are Giving High Marks To A Website’s Removal Of Its ‘Chili Pepper’ Rating

"That's not always a badge of honor."

Many people may be familiar with the online platform RateMyProfessors.com, which allows users to see how professors have been rated by former students. The platform, owned by MTV, gives professors a ranking based off their overall quality and level of difficulty, and allows students to tag them for things such as giving good feedback, having good lectures, being inspirational, and offering a lot of work. 

And, until recently, the platform also had a "chili pepper" rating meant to "reflect a dynamic/exciting teaching style," but was often seen as a way of objectifying professors, especially women. But on June 28, RateMyProfessors.com removed it. 

The move came shortly after BethAnn McLaughlin, a neurology professor at Vanderbilt University, sent out the following tweet: 

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, McLaughlin felt inclined to reach out to RateMyProfessors.com "after learning that a recent National Academy of Sciences study had found high levels of sexual harassment of women in the sciences and technology." 

McLaughlin's tweet received nearly 3,000 retweets and more than 15,000 likes, as well as comments from other professors.

"Some of my friends who had taught previously and meet the criteria for quote-unquote hotness ... that's not always a badge of honor," McLaughlin told BuzzFeed. "They're often targets of comments about how they look and how they dress, and it undermines their credibility."

"They come in with outstanding teaching capability and are really feeling like they're making these earnest connections with our students," she said. "And then to be sort of denigrated and pushed aside that you were sexy. … That's not a context you want to be sexy in, that's not a compliment."

Following McLaughlin's viral tweet, RateMyProfessors.com responded:

In an essay on Edge For Scholars, McLaughlin responded to the removal of the chili pepper, writing:

"Today we had small but important victory in getting the folks at RateMyProfessors to take down the chili peppers students use to evaluate professors' 'hotness.' Within 72 hours of being called out by 14,000 academics and students, they pulled a thorn from the side of women in education. I am grateful that MTV and Viacom recognized that telling students that evaluating professors based on their looks has aged poorly. In the age of #MeToo, #TimesUp and #MeTooSTEM, we know better, so we must do better."

She continues: "[RateMyProfessors] chose civility and kindness over snarky banter and retribution. They chose to show our students that the path forward is not one of pettiness and locker room banter. So I thank you, RateMyProfessors, on behalf of all professors. Your executives made the right call quickly and with the moral authority we should all be empowered with when we see that our actions and long-held ideas are hurting others. You did the right thing."

Cover images Pixel-Shot / Shutterstock.com and tete_escape / Shutterstock.

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