By Rocio Hernandez
Before his semester started, University of Nevada, Reno student Vincent Rivera asked all of his friends to recommend him to some great professors and to point out the ones to avoid. Afterward, when searching teachers on Rate My Professor, he found that the professors his friends had said they enjoyed, not only had high ratings on, but were also accompanied by a chili pepper. The ones that his friends didn’t enjoy didn’t have a chili pepper. To Rivera, it seemed that professors earned their peppers because students liked their classes.
According to two studies by finance and law professor James Felton, there is a definite correlation between the attractiveness of a professor and high Rate My Professor rankings. His research proved that, statistically speaking, students do place a high value on attractiveness. On a scale of zero to one, with zero being that looks and quality are not related and one being they do, Felton determined the correlation to be at 0.64. He doesn’t find this surprising.
“There is all kinds of evidence from other studies of people who are more attractive: things like more likely to be promoted, more likely to have higher salary, that kind of stuff,” Felton said. “So, it’s also true in academics.”
In 2003, Felton started his research because he was interested in the topic after he discovered Rate My Professor and noticed that he had received ratings on the site. In the comments, Felton felt that students were giving professors a good score for the wrong reasons.
Felton’s later study states that many college students who rate professors on the site consider quality to be associated with looks and ease of grading.
“A lot of the times students were saying that a professor is very high quality, and then in the comments, they were talking about how easy the class is or how attractive the professor is,” Felton said.
Felton conducted the research twice with two different sets of data. The first, “Web-based Student Evaluation of Professors: The Relation Between Perceived Quality, Easiness and Sexiness,” looked at only 3,190 professors with at least 10 student posts at 25 universities. The second, “Attractiveness, Easiness, and Other Issues: Student Evaluations of Professors on RateMyProfessor.com,” looked at 6,852 faculty members of various universities. In the second test, Felton found a higher correlation between quality and “hotness.”
He believes that attractive professors are more privileged in their ratings than their average looking counterparts. He says students will either let the attractive professor’s mistakes and flaws go unnoticed because his or her looks suggest they can do no wrong, or they give the instructor a higher rating than was deserved because of their looks.
“For the most part, they still have to do a good job,” Felton said. “If they are really attractive and they are just awful in the classroom, you know, they could still get low scores, but they kind of get the benefit of the doubt.”
Special education major Jessica Grant took a math class with an attractive male professor. She said that she found him to be one of the best math professors.
“I don’t know if it was because he was attractive, but I did a lot better in that class than other math classes I’ve taken. He might have just been a good teacher as well, but it didn’t hurt,” Grant said.
Sophomore Adrian Bowles had the opposite experience. He took Math 126R with Annalee Gomm who no longer works at the university. He said that Gomm was very pretty, and students gave her an overall quality of 4.5 on the website. He and his friends thought it was going to be a great semester.
“She was an all right professor, but I just didn’t think she was that good,” Bowles said. “She didn’t have that one-on-one connection that students needed. On Rate My Professor, [former students] overlooked either what they said or they gave her a good recommendation, a good scale I guess, because she’s hot.”
Professor Adrienne Petersen had no idea that she was a popular, attractive math professor on the website in the eyes of her previous students. She had a little difficulty understanding her flaming hotness rating since she was pregnant last semester. She thinks that it might have to do with the fact that students are forced to pay close attention to her during lecture.
“I guess that teaching math is probably somewhat of a situational hotness, because if you saw me out on the street, you can say ‘Oh yeah, she’s attractive, whatever,’ but as soon as you put me in a position that has very few females to begin with, and then very few attractive females that aren’t the nerdy stereotype, maybe my chili pepper rating gets a little bit bumped up by that position,” Petersen said.
Professor Daniel Fred recently found out that he was ranked a “hot” professor on the site. He treats his attractive rating as just another compliment.
“I absolutely love teaching, and I love this subject so I hope people like the class because of the quality and experience,” Fred said. “It’s actually disappointing on some level to see the rate my prof. That’s not what I want my class to be known for.”
Like Felton’s study proved, some students will continue to be influenced by Rate My Professor’s chili pepper ratings when choosing new professors for the upcoming semester.
This semester, freshman Vincent Rivera was unable to get into any classes with chili pepper earning professors and he is going to try not to waste time next fall.
“If I need a class, and I see a professor with a chili pepper teaching that class, I’m going to try and get into that class,” Rivera said. “I’m not even going to read their comments or even the professor’s rebuttal. I’m pretty much set that that will work till it doesn’t work, then I will have to change my system somehow.”