I received a few comments on Facebook about my post on managing Rate My Professors that made me realize that I had failed to address why anyone, especially a tenured professor, should care about what is said about him on RMP.
For faculty with tenure a don’t look strategy is certainly defensible, and as Sara Mitchell noted, I did not look at any of my evaluations of teaching for a number of years (more recently I have been able to get past the irritation of stupid, unfair comments, and now laugh at them, which is a good thing as it permits me to look at the potentially useful comments, as well as the nice ones). But for someone who is not tenured or is pursuing her first job, not looking is a foolhardy. Why? Let’s begin with ABDs searching for a job.
There are people on search committees who will google the candidates name. Because RMP (and similar sites) have a high “Google score,” a search for a name will often produce that site among the top 10 (often the top 5). Some people on search committees will actually go look. And if you think that does not have the potential to reduce the chances of getting an interview or job offer, well, enjoy your ignorance Candide. Or go read the crap at PSR (formerly PSJR) and remind yourself what some people in our field think and discuss.
What about folks on the tenure track? I first became aware of RMP when a colleague of mine had her career temporarily derailed by a combination of a vitriolic campaign by students on RMP and my university’s administrative poor response to weak teaching evaluations. Alarmed that a crowd sourced site I had never heard of was being used a forum to publicly attack a colleague I began thinking about what one might do. I thought about JQ Wilson’s broken windows thesis, and considered that it made sense that if student A posts something inflammatory that other students in the course will want to “rubber neck” at the flame (and again I refer you to PSR [formerly PSJR]), and that other disgruntled students are likely to pile on, and wham you have a cascade. Which students are most likely to be missing from that rubber necking flame fest? Precisely the ones who the Professor would most like to see posting ratings.
Thinking about this led me to devise the management strategy I described in my post. As an empiricist I decided to try it (despite the fact that I was tenured).