Students: Grade My Picture
Teacher-rating Web site launches photo feature
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A new photo feature on a student-rated Web site for evaluating professors now allows its users to upload pictures of listed teachers to accompany their profiles.

Taken in the classroom unknowingly via camera cell phones, or uploaded by the teacher’s themselves, users of Ratemyprofessor.com can now put a face with a name, along with their "hot" or "not" rating.

As an SF State history lecturer with mostly positive reviews and one of the few with a photo on the site, Mark Sigmon, 47, said he thinks “the whole thing is kind of funny.”

Sigmon said he frequents the site embarrassingly often, and the mostly-positive reviews sometimes serve as an ego boost. Laughing as he said that he accidentally uploaded his own department photo to the site, Sigmon said he’s unsure of his feelings when it comes to the new feature.

“I think it’s interesting to be judged on your looks,” he said.

Following the leads of other “profile” Web sites, such as Myspace.com and Facebook.com, whose markets are largely student based, Ratemyprofessor.com President Patrick Nagle, 24, said the inspiration for the new feature sprang from its users.

“We had requests from students over the last year requesting such a feature," Nagle said. "We decided to implement it, give them what they were asking for.”

Seven SF State professors out of more than 1600 listed on the site now have photos displayed next to their “scorecard,” which keeps track of their teaching quality ratings and student comments.

SF State Mass Communications Law lecturer David Greene, who also works as the executive director for a nonprofit that supports First Amendment rights, said someone could make a decent argument that providing this place to upload a teacher’s photo is a misappropriation – meaning his or her image is being used for commercial purposes through a Web site making money from the advertisers it sells space to.

Since the photo feature was added nearly a month ago, Nagle said the site is experiencing its “highest level of traffic” ever.

But Greene also said, “I don’t think you have a strong expectation of privacy in the classroom.”

Sigmon agreed with Greene’s sentiment regarding privacy, but also noted some discomfort in the idea.

“I’m not used to people taking pictures of you with their telephone," he said. "I don’t think anyone does take pictures in class, but I don’t know.”

“That sounds illegal,” Evan Silver, 22, a senior journalism student said of the ability for anonymous members to post photographs of their professors. “If you’re putting a picture up there the teacher is being rated on criteria completely unrelated to their ability to teach.”

Nagle, who bought the site with a partner in 2005, said he is not concerned with the legality.

“We have some very reputable counsel," he said. "We were advised that we are a forum … We are a tool for users to say what they like.”

“I think it's wonderful that there is that forum," Greene said of Ratemyprofessor.com. “As a teacher of First Amendment rights, I encourage students to exercise (these) rights, and I would encourage professors to be thick-skinned.”

Nagle said the site will soon add another new feature allowing professors to respond to their ratings in a blog-like format.

SF State linguistic theory professor Rachelle Waksler, who declined to give her age, said of the photo someone took from her Web site and uploaded to Ratemyprofessor.com, “I think that that’s not cool without my permission…it should be approved by the person it’s of.” Waksler said that regardless of approval of appropriate material by the site’s administrators before a photo goes up, she “would be rather disgusted if they could just pick any photo.”

“The response is mixed,” Nagle said, noting that the site’s nature has always made it this way.

“I don’t particularly mind because it’s a photo I know,” Paul Mullins, 36, an assistant art professor, said of the photo on his page. “I think if it was something someone snapped with a camera phone I would feel differently about it.” All that aside, Mullins said he would hope students would not make decisions based on their potential teacher’s appearance.

Freshman Nicole Gour, 18, SF State anthropology major, said she relies on Ratemyprofessor.com to help her plan her semester – giving her accurate guidance in selecting her teachers. The new photo feature is something she said is “interesting and amusing” but “doesn’t serve me in any way.”

If anything, Gour suggested perhaps students would “feel a little more comfortable going into the classroom,” knowing who to expect as their instructor.

“When you consider what students spend on an education, they should be able to make an informative decision on who they’d like to take and who they’d like to avoid," Nagle said. “People should be able to get on it and use any tool necessary.”

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