Ah, college. For some it was the best four years of their life, for others maybe the best seven years, give or take.
Since 1999, the popular website RateMyProfessors allowed college students to read and write reviews about professors at their institute of higher education. Reviews covered who was a great teacher, who to avoid, who graded easily, and oddly enough, a hotness rating in the form of an image of a chili pepper.
The website, which is owned by MTV, even released a top 10 list of the hottest professors from 2016 to 2017.
Would a person’s physical appearance persuade a student to take a particular class? The “hotness” rating has been a longstanding feature on the site, but many professors see it as sexist.
BethAnn McLaughlin, a neurology professor at Vanderbilt University, tweeted her unhappiness over the “hotness” rating, saying that it’s “obnoxious and utterly irrelevant” to teaching.
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
Her tweet garnered support from other female professors who say that it’s hard enough to be treated seriously in the profession as a woman or a young faculty member.
The chili pepper is incredibly creepy and frankly, it makes the job of being taken seriously that much harder for women and young faculty, in my experiences. Please remove it, @ratemyprofessor. Outward appearances have NO bearing on teaching. #college #HigherEducation #academia https://t.co/iplG3Jbaea
— Sarah Sheffield (@sarahlsheffield) June 26, 2018
Even male professors find the feature to be uncomfortable.
It's annoying as a Male prof. Cant imagine how unsettling it would be as a female prof. https://t.co/Bjqe3B0HIW
— Benjamin Winslow (@benwins2) June 27, 2018
McLaughlin is not listed on the site because she teaches in smaller group mentorship settings, she says according to BuzzFeed, but she sees how the rating affects her colleagues.
In the interview with BuzzFeed, McLaughlin said, “Some of my friends who had taught previously and meet the criteria for quote-unquote hotness … that’s not always a badge of honor. They’re often targets of comments about how they look and how they dress, and it undermines their credibility.”
She also said that it isn’t limited to just her female colleagues either. “What I’m hearing now through Twitter, which I wasn’t aware of before, are male colleagues saying, ‘I don’t want my students to even consider how sexually attracted they are to me.’ It makes for horrible dynamics, for power differentials, and feeling awkward.”
The chili pepper rating has since been taken down. Rate My Professors tweeted the following response:
.@McLNeuro 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.
— RateMyProfessors (@ratemyprofessor) June 28, 2018
Despite saying that the chili pepper rating was “meant to reflect a dynamic/exciting teaching style,” there is plenty of evidence, in the form of old tweets and the above-mentioned top 10 hottest professor list, to suggest that the real meaning has always been exactly how attractive a professor is considered.
Regardless, the website should be applauded for how swiftly it responded to the criticism and quickly it removed the feature.
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