. It is operated by the students at City College of San Francisco, a two-year college. There is a disclaimer that CCSF does not support the site or endorse anything said on it.
When you visit the site, you are first given a choice between reviews of instructors at CCSF or at other institutions anywhere in the world. Then you are invited either to read reviews or to post them. Most of the activity concerns CCSF, but at the Duke page you will find one review of a local instructor. At most places other than CCSF you find no reviews, and are invited to start by posting one yourself. Over time, no one knows how many instructors in how many places will find their work "reviewed" on this site.
The two CCSF instructors who settled their suit (rather than risk paying more when the judge threw it out) teach English and physics. The English instructor (I will call him Prof. C) started the suit and was joined by the physics instructor (Prof. W) several months later.
Prof. C, openly gay, claimed he was being defamed by the postings on the site in the most vulgar and homophobic terms. Prof. W claimed the webmaster suppressed positive reviews and added negative ones, especially after he criticized the site at a faculty meeting. Both claimed that the webmaster himself wrote negative reviews about them.
The webmaster was defended by the ACLU, and claimed immunity under the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects webmasters from liability for injurious or otherwise offensive things posted on an open site under their control. When it appeared to the plaintiffs that the judge would not grant them the right to try to find out who wrote the reviews, they decided the case was hopeless.
I was curious to see what kind of things were said about the two plaintiffs, so I selected Prof. W's name from the list and clicked the button. There were three reviews that gave him an A, one that gave him a D, and six that gave him an F (I only looked at the first page out of three). Some of the F reviews accused him of having written the A reviews himself. Typical of the love notes accompanying the grade of F was this:
If there was a definition for BONEHEAD in the Webster's Dictionary, Mr. W's picture would be next to it. He is a waste of human flesh. I took his class a year ago and I couldn't believe this guy was allowed to teach. I don't know if you're aware of this Mr. W, but it is blatanly obvious that the A reviews were written by you. You are not fooling anyone. You should stop wasting your time writing false reviews, and spend your energy teaching your students. I don't know how you can live with yourself knowing that you are a complete failure in what is supposed to be your livelyhood. Please do all of us a favor and resign. At least that way, you can sit on your lazy ass as you have been doing all these years [Spelling by the author.]That is mild compared to some things said about Prof. C. There were 12 pages about him. On the first page he received one A, two D's and seven F's. He was often accused of writing the A's himself. I will spare the reader the vicious rhetoric in some of the F reviews. Here are excerpts from a thoughtful one:
Professor C, I just saw the recent article about you in People magazine and it brought on a hell of a flashback to my worst memories of a few years ago. I'm not writing this as another hatchet job, but to say what I should have said eight years ago, had I not so meekly accepted your espousal of my worth as one of your literature students. The People article says you "can't help but log on" to this site. I hope you may find something here to make you rethink your essential approach toward education. There are a lot of childish and homophobic comments posted on this site. That's too bad, and obviously it discredits those writers. I do recall, though, that you couldn't seem to get through half a lecture hour without working in your "lover." I remember finding that distasteful in the same way that a straight person's constant references to their "lover," to a captive audience, would strike me as overly intimate, not to mention protesting too much. But this is besides the point, since many other educators are also openly gay and yet don't arouse the sort of hostility and rage I'm seeing in your former students Personally, I found more annoying your constant reminder to your class to the point where it became a running joke that you possess a doctorate. It smacked of defensiveness about your job at a junior college, and by extension contempt for us, your junior college students. Did it ever occur to you that your students could care less what academic credential you possess? They came to learn about literature, not to be bullied and despised by a man who let them know, twice a week for an hour, just how far beneath his station he was working.Next I went back to the start of the web site to see if I could post a review without having to identify myself.
I picked a CCSF instructor at random (Jessica Brown, English) and clicked the button. A page opened containing a lot of forms to fill out. The first was a pop-up menu from which I had to choose a grade (A, B, C, D, F) for the instructor's performance. I was asked what classes I had with this person as instructor, and then given a large field in which I could post "Comments/Warnings/Praise" concerning the instructor. Above that field was a "Read This First!" link to a page offering guidelines and suggestions of things to comment on, and containing this item:
Please avoid slanderous, libelous or malicious material. Teacher Review will not tolerate racism, sexism, homophobia or other signs of arrested development in reviews. Accept the responsibility that comes with anonymous postings.A similar bit of advice appeared just above the "Submit" button at the end of the form. I suspect these were added after the lawsuit was filed. The really vile stuff on Prof. C shows how seriously the site was moderated to avoid these "signs of arrested development."
Finally there were questions about the reviewer (major field, goal at CCSF, grade received in class, sex, age and GPA). All optional, as far as I could tell.
There was no check on my identity, no computer account ID or password required. I think I could have blasted away at Ms. Brown, or given her fulsome praise, with complete impunity.
Then I went to the Duke page to try the same thing. The form was not the same. There were no warnings about being libelous, etc., but there were more detailed questions about the instructor's handwriting and such things. Interestingly, on this part of the site you must open an account with Teacher Review before your comments will be posted. This seems to involve nothing more than giving your e-mail address which, they promise, will be kept secret. Secret from plaintiffs suing for defamation, at least.
In browsing around I found a few reviews aimed at N.C. State instructors. One of them had two reviews concerning his teaching of introductory calculus last spring. One gave him a A, the other a D:
He was tough but forced me to think on my own as well as understand that my limits were/are much higher than I had ever thought possible. I was really mad at him at first when I didn't understand but it forced me to buckle down and make sense of things I never thought I would get. I was in tears the second or third week when a single problem took me over an hour to solve BUT I DID IT; that was my turning point and I actually got a LOT out of the class after that moment.Same course, same instructor. Of course, it is possible that the instructor wrote the A review. It's also possible that a personal enemy wrote the other one.
This is the worst math teacher I have ever had in my life. He ignores the book and teaches based on his own personal ways of doing things and grades based on his order of operations. He is completely unreasonable and will not listen to any input from students about his teaching style. He should not be allowed to teach higher level math classes. The only way I learned anything is by reading the book and struggling to figure it out on my own. Take my advice and never, never take his course.
Did the webmaster at CCSF manipulate the reviews and perhaps write some of them? He could have. Did Profs. C and W write some of their own favorable reviews? They could have.
I suppose the students running the site at CCSF think they are performing a service to their classmates by offering this invitation to "review" their instructors. They are also generously offering the same opportunity to anyone anywhere. The court case suggests that one has no protection against vicious and injurious things posted anonymously on an open website.
Are these reviews used in whatever process faculty at CCSF are put through in pursuit of promotion and tenure? One can hope not, but I wonder.
I also wonder when it happened that teaching became just another public activity, like entertainment or politics.