New on the UK scene is a local variant of the US Rate Your Professor, named Rate Your Lecturer. It is potentially very harmful, to UK Universities (good people will leave the sector), students (good people will leave the sector; trust will be breached), and of course individual faculty members (because they might be criticized in error, or over matters for which they have no control). But resistance is not futile. At the foot of this posting, there is some stuff you can do. But first, why is it a crock ?
Rate Your Lecturer: Inhumane, Dangerous for Students, Flawed
There are many reasons for this scheme being a bad thing, so let me give you my top four:
1) I am a human being. I’m not a dancing bear. For my work, as part of my teaching, I stand in front of a class and ‘lecture’. Its demanding. I do my best. I often think I could do better. I have good days and bad days. But I do this for my students, who are registered with my university, and for that university which is my employer. I make myself accessible to students who haven’t understood what I am trying to teach. I provide course outlines and guides. I put a lot of thought and effort into what I do. My students are great – indeed, I think they are a golden generation, which puts mine to shame. But what I am not is a public performer, a stand-up comedian, a cabaret artist. I have a mum and a dad and a partner and children, and friends and neighbours. If my occupation makes me personally the subject of anonymous, public comments about my day to day performance or appearance that they and anyone else can read then that is not the job I signed up for.
2) Ironically, if not, hypocritically, the people behind the site conceal their names, while happily trading in the traducing of named individuals. Even in correspondence, the names of the people involved are concealed behind the sinister sounding “The RYL Team”. The single name I have found, Michael Bulman, required me going to Companies House and paying for the company registration documents.
3) While encouraging anonymous comments from students, it does not protect or indemnify them from consequence should those comments turn out to be libelous or otherwise in error. From student feedback processes conducted in house, we know this happens. To illustrate, to my knowledge, there have been complaints about individual staff members and courses about things that just didn’t happen – for example, assessment by presentation on a 100% exam assessed course. There may well be some malice in feedback sometimes; or maybe just a general grudge. But sometimes, too, there is forgetfulness (which lecturer was Professor Cooke – oh yes the thin good looking one), there is misjudgment (the value of a course becomes apparent a year or two later) and sometimes, some subjects just are intrinsically difficult and boring, and there is no way round that.
4) Lecturers will find it even harder to give the tiny minority of students who skive, turn up late, and otherwise free-ride on their peers’ work and commitment the bollocking they sometimes require, and would get in the real world of employment. I mean, why risk a public Maoist speak-bitterness campaign ?
According to the Information Commissioner’s Office, there is no Data Controller registered under the company name (Sterling Ideas Ltd) or at the two addresses provided through companies house. It seems to me that this website provides suitable grounds for complaint to the ICO on these grounds:
- You believe that an organisation has used, held or disclosed information about you:
- for a reason that is not the one it was collected for; or
- without proper security.
- You believe an organisation is holding information about you that is:
- inadequate, irrelevant or excessive;
- inaccurate or out of date; or
- kept for longer than is necessary.
(source: http://www.ico.org.uk/complaints/handling, accessed 2 June 2013)
However, my experiences with the ICO over the REF debacle, wherein it permitted universities to gather intimate data about the wellbeing of university staff family members, without those family members consent, informed or otherwise (with respect, for example, to their Alzheimers, adoption, divorce, mental illness, or gender reassignment) makes me less than sanguine. I will make the complaint, and also try and get UCU to take an interest. Again, given its failure to act on the REF scandal (I actually – foolishly it turns out – believed Sally Hunt meant it when she asked us to email her personally), I am not optimistic.
I shouldn’t have to, but I feel I need to go on record to say, actually, the Government’s KIS initiative, putting NSS-survey like data in the public domain is a good thing (to my surprise). And also, I like rigorous student evaluation processes – but you need to careful how you interpret them.
How to oppose Rate My Lecturer
1) You can contact Rate My Lecturer at email@example.com. I have emailed them and told them either to remove my name, or, if they keep it there will be a fee of 75 pounds sterling per day to be paid to a charity of my choice.
2) You can email a similar message to Michael Bulman on firstname.lastname@example.org According to Companies House, he is the owner of the company behind Rate Your Lecturer. The address from which his company (Sterling Ideas Ltd) was registered is in Salisbury; but the company address is in Southampton. One of these could be his home address, so I will withhold that for now. But if it comes to it, and you need somewhere to send your fee invoice (for the 75 quid a day), I will publish the land-mail addresses here.
3) You can contact the data protection person at HESA. According to netsells.co.uk, which constructed the site, the Rate Your Lecturer personal data (names and affiliations of individuals) is populated using public domain data made available by HESA. There is also a link to HESA on the Rate Your Lecturer Site, suggesting some connection. The data protection email for HESA is email@example.com . Your complaint might include the use of data for reasons beyond that for which they are legally collected.
4) You can make a complaint to the Information Commissioner’s Office using their online process, following the instructions here http://www.ico.org.uk/complaints/handling Things you might want to complain about are the breach of privacy, and data being used for reasons beyond those for which it is collected.
5) For what it is worth, if you are a UCU member, you could try getting them to act on this. Sally Hunt’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org The National Head of Higher Education is Michael MacNeil, email@example.com Given the US equivalent has a record of including comments on the physical appearance and attractiveness of lecturers, you might also try Equalities Officer Helen Carr on firstname.lastname@example.org
6) You might want to share your own ideas, not least through this listserv, or at the comments section of an extended account of Rate My Lecturer on www.criticalfaculties.org.
7) Please also circulate this more widely.
At this spot was a grump about the Times Higher piece on this. However, I have edited it out. Others are entitled to being cut some slack, as well as us lecturers.