Students Rate PA Faculty On Popular Internet Site

Sweeping the Phillips Academy campus by storm, a website that allows students to post anonymous opinions of faculty members has risen in popularity, as Andover earned the title of the school with the most entries this week. Currently, 169 Andover teachers and administrators are rated on, which permits students to evaluate faculty members in the categories of course difficulty, helpfulness, and clarity. Since mid-February, Andover students have posted hundreds of entries on the site, which was created in 2001 as a spin-off of the popular The website has quickly become a phenomenon, representing schools from all 50 states and Canada. The site administrators, who censor profane, threatening, sexual, discriminatory, or otherwise libelous comments, claim that their goal is “to make this website a valuable resource by helping students get through their middle, junior, and high school careers with minimum pain.” Although students have abused this site by posting their peers online and claiming that they are teachers, such postings are deleted by the site administrators, who explain, “The purpose of this site is to be a resource for students. Where else can you find out what others think of an instructor…It gives you a place to make a difference in your education.” Comments about PA teachers range from brief and crass to detailed and laudatory. Of the 171 teachers listed on the site, only 20 have negative average ratings. A comment about Chair of the Chinese Department Dr. Han reads, “Quite possibly the single best teacher I have ever had. He is exceedingly dedicated, fair, helpful, clear, and a funny guy to boot.” However, a comment for another language teacher with a lower popularity rating reads, “Her failure to grasp Western culture in conjunction with her atrocious teaching style (or lack thereof) pains her students.” Although at first glance these ratings seem to reflect popular student sentiment accurately, they can actually be misleading if one person has completed the evaluation form several times for the same teacher. Dean of Faculty Stephen Carter warned, “[The website] does not necessarily reflect even the majority of student opinion about a given teacher. It may just reflect the opinion of a few disgruntled students who just received a poor grade and want to rant about the person they feel is responsible.” He continued, “It would be more productive if the students took a look in the mirror and figured out why they did not do as well as they had hoped.” Nancy Davis, the owner of the site, remarked, “We believe that students are not in the equation anywhere. They have no say, no input about what they do for six hours every day. Students have the right to be heard. They have to sit in the class and endure.” Though students may feel that their opinions about faculty members are often inconsequential, the Academy nevertheless provides students with an opportunity to fill out teacher evaluations at the end of the fall and spring trimesters. Department chairs also seek student feedback when conducting faculty reviews, but other students are not able to view them. “There are formal, institutional processes for [evaluating teachers,]” Chair of the Chemistry Department Christina Kerekes explained. Despite the school’s attempts at acknowledging student opinion, Ms. Kerekes sympathizes with the students’ position, stating, “I recognize that it is hard sometimes for students to come forward with concerns, but we encourage them to do so.” Many students seem to be attracted to “” because the Academy does not have a sanctioned forum for students to share with each other their comments about faculty. Many colleges, including Harvard University, Boston University, and Williams College, provide an internal database of comments to aid students in choosing classes. However, Dean of Studies Vincent Avery does not feel that such a database is necessary at Andover because “students have been sharing their opinions with each other for a long time. This is just a modern version of an old tradition.” Although Dean Carter admitted that students have the right to post comments as they please, he noted, “I do think that [the website] has the unfortunate possibility of setting up an unhealthy dynamic between students and teachers. Teaching is not a popularity contest… It is about learning and sometimes learning is hard. When it doesn’t go well, the student often blames the teacher.”