NET NEWS: Online Course Reviews Bare All

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  19 Nov 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5444, pp. 1439
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5444.1439c

Getting slammed by students about one's teaching can be painful for professors, but now there's an even greater danger to faculty egos: uncensored Web forums where students offer unrestrained praise—or denunciations—of their classes. At least one professor has thrown a counterpunch, last month suing a site over its public vetting of his teaching.

It's common for academic departments to use confidential student reviews in promotion decisions, and at some campuses students for years have produced booklets of edited reviews to help peers choose classes. Posting raw, anonymous reviews on the Internet, however, is a recent phenomenon. For example, Teacher Review, a 2-year-old site, posts unedited comments on courses at two San Francisco schools. Some reviews are thoughtful, others are vicious, and many are peppered with remarks ranging from “way cool” and “he da man!” to “tells raunchy jokes” and “this guy is anal!” Angered at some of the reviews posted about himself, English professor Daniel Curzon-Brown of City College of San Francisco last month filed a lawsuit seeking to block the postings and remove links from the college to Teacher Review, which is run off-campus by a student. Curzon-Brown, who's also seeking monetary damages, alleges that false and defamatory statements were made about him and others.

Not all professors oppose the sites. San Francisco State University biologist Ralph Larsen, also rated on Teacher Review, says, “Students are going to get the word out, anyway.” Gary Freeman of the University of Texas, Austin, whose developmental biology class is rated at another site (, says that to him it's no different from a tradition at Austin, where departments post big sheets of paper at registration for students to scrawl their opinions: “This kind of information is all over the place.” But chemist John Moore of the University of Maryland, College Park, who's also been reviewed at CollegePro-Net, worries that the sites could give students a one-sided view—not to mention cause “psychological harm” to professors. “I don't see that it's very helpful,” he says.

Navigate This Article