Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Wombat of the Copier gives advice for those who like to dilute the hate on RMP

If you're going to go to the site that shan't be named to say good stuff about yourself "anonymously", make sure you don't use any of your catch-phrases.  If you are going to do this in your second language, you have pretty much no chance of pulling it off.  If you landed the TT because you know someone, and now you're in the position of heading the department otherwise fully covered by adjuncts, all of whom have more experience than yourself, and you are so intimidated that you think lofting your RMP score ahead of everyone else's is what you need to do to gain our respect, you are an even bigger idiot than I thought you were when you put "taking attendance" on your resume.  The only pathetic act from which you refrained was giving yourself a chili pepper.  I'm pretty sure if you'd given yourself a chili pepper, I would quit. 


-- Wombat of the Copier

17 comments:

  1. I have gone on RMP as a department chair only because my dean makes references to it all the time. (S)he is a complete ass who gives the site significance. It is so depressing. I do see, now that I am looking occasionally at other people's comments, how obvious it seems that some of them are written by the prof him or herself. Absolutely, if anyone is going to do that, they should try to make it as different as possible from their own writing! But far better to skip the site all together. One funny thing: a man I wrote about on CM (the search function is no longer working there, so I can't find it) who is a very popular prof obviously writes some of his own, even though all of the posts quite positive anyway. A few key things give him away, such as the exactly worded way he talks about his musical gigs and the exact words he uses to try to encourage students to attend his shows.

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  2. I'm starting to wonder which is worse: RMP or Twitter?

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    1. I'm finding the twitter feed here kind of useful, though also alarming. I realize it's a selection of a very few tweets from an already self-selected group (those who are narcissistic and/or unwise enough to narrate their lives in public), but I guess I also suspect it's the tip of the iceberg (what a few will say in public, others are saying, or at least thinking, in private), and the attitudes toward professors in particular and education in general are pretty depressing. Although I'm fully aware of the distance between expressing a wish to do violence and actually doing it, I'm also finding the rate at which students (including female students, which probably shouldn't surprise me, but does) express the desire to do physical violence to their professors alarming. I think it's also the dailiness of the whole thing that bothers me. RMP comments are easy to see as expressions of frustration at a particular point in time (often, the point of getting a lower grade on an test/assignment or whole class than the student wanted), while the tweets reflect an ongoing sense of antagonism toward professors that bothers me.

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  3. I discovered the site that shall not be named shortly before I quit teaching. I checked it once in while just to see what was written about me. I'm sure that some of the comments were written by my enemies at the institution. I guess they were determined to continue blackening my reputation after I'd gone.

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  4. It is easy enough to avoid these pitfalls by (i) having a friend (non-academic) do it for you; (ii) imitating the studentflakes' style and phraseology. At least on my page the level of plagiarism (using the same phrases found in earlier comments) is so high, it is very easy to use similar constructions and give them a positive twist. (Incidentally, I'm quite sure my page is "managed" by colleagues or admins, or their student minions; the comments mirror snippets of hallway gossip that wouldn't normally occur to students.)

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  5. Peter K raises an important point: phraseology of later comments does tend to mirror earlier ones, which suggests both an approach and an opportunity for those attempting to influence the trends on their own pages (and, as someone on CM pointed out, possibly on their official evaluations as well; the linguistic and attitudinal carryover may well apply there, too, which is a good reason for us to pay attention, and adjust as necessary, if we're in places/situations where student evaluations count).

    As I've said before, I periodically add comments to my own page, often lightly paraphrasing comments that strike me as both positive and true that show up in my official evaluations. I try to adjust the numbers to convey a "tough but fair" image (and to keep my overall average in the green smiley-face range, though I don't always succeed in that). I also lean toward advice-giving (a pretty common approach in the real comments, so I'm mirroring there, too), on the theory that, if I'm skewing an already-skewed process, at least I'm doing so in a way that is potentially useful to students. On the other hand, the advice might well be the place where readers could recognize me linguistically (on the other hand, there are actual advice-giving student comments that mirror the syllabus or the letter I send out at the beginning of the semester pretty closely, so that, too, goes both ways).

    I'm not entirely comfortable with fiddling with my RMP page, but I think it's at least ethically defensible given my current situation. If I ever had tenure at a place I was sure I wanted to stay (and/or enough publications to know that RMP would be entirely irrelevant to any future job search), I'd ignore it. As things stand, I don't think it's safe to ignore it, and I prefer fiddling directly to trying to fiddle by remote control (trying to charm/bribe/wheedle students into writing good reviews). I don't think anybody is monitoring my institution's page (but I do usually log in using different ISP addresses in plausible locations -- which is pretty easy, since we're still a mostly-commuter school. Any library, coffee shop, etc. in a pretty broad geographical area will do, and we have enough out-of-state students to make a few entries completed while traveling plausible). That may well vary by institution/department, and/or the culture thereof.

    As far as potential employers, departmental and other administrators, etc. consulting the site goes -- I think they'd be unwise either to ignore it or to take it seriously (a tricky balance to maintain). Checking it, like googling a candidate, probably constitutes basic "due diligence" these days (which is why anybody who isn't already tenured at an institution where they plan to retire needs to curate his/her online presence). Hiring someone who was clearly identified as problematic online without trying to figure out why that reputation existed would be irresponsible (and yes, that's unfair in some ways, but it's a competitive market, and there are plenty of candidates for whom google searches don't bring up red flags). But it would also be irresponsible to take praise on RMP very seriously, for the reasons Wombat's story, and others here, illustrate all too well. Maybe someday the site will go dark, and we can all stop worrying about the stupid thing? What's its business model, anyway?

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  6. I've decided it doesn't matter what I write, as long I give myself good numeric scores. Superpowers, Romulan ancestry, classroom demonstrations gone spectacularly and fatally awry, descriptions plagiarized verbatim from the George Washington rap (Twelve stories high, made of radiation...)--but I have a green smiley face!

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  7. Well, shucks. I just checked my RMP ratings, and I'm not even on it. After all I do for these kids, the least they could do is say I'm a crappy dresser or I should lay off the coffee or scotch. Or increase my rations of same. Or something. Anything.

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    1. Consider yourself lucky. My listing stayed on the site for my now former employer for about 5 years after I quit. I guess somebody finally caught on that I wasn't there any more.

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    2. In fact, I do consider myself lucky, but I'm also not surprised. I rather enjoy the internal reputation that I will eat their firstborn. I consider it a badge of honor that they're too terrified to put me on RMP. They know I can find them. I have that particular set of skills.

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    3. One of my old buddies still has the same rating he had for years. It never changes. I think it's because he died in 2010. I read his ratings once in a while to remember. The students appeared to like him. That makes me feel good.

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  8. Once again I am thankful to live in great, glorious socialist state of California and have a strong faculty union. Among other things, our union mandates orderly probationary plans for tenure-track faculty, an important part of which is the provision that "Anonymous material from off campus, regardless of content, will not be used." This means that content from the-site-that-shall-not-be-named is a no-no. It's about as valid as what's written in the walls in the bathroom, but I needn't remind you of that.

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    1. Well, even if it isn't formally used in TPR, it is used informally in hiring situations, and by students. So it does damage people's careers.

      What's puzzling to me is that sometimes I'll look for a name, and although the person has taught for years there is no TSTSNBN track at all. And sometimes entire departments are missing. I think what happened in those cases was a well-worded letter from somebody's lawyer, or from a dean. Whoever runs it has at least some fear of being taken to task for slander. (And even if it is not run by admins themselves, that's the main group that benefits from the site.)

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    2. Peter:

      I'm sure the material that remained on TSTSNBN may have been a factor in my never getting another teaching position. It didn't help that much of it was balderdash. I mean, I was being chastised for a course that I never even taught. How stupid is that?

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    3. By the way, with regards to the slander you mentioned, I once made some inquiries about that, stemming from illicit material having been submitted into my HR file. Unfortunately, where I live, that sort of thing is perfectly legal, or was when I asked. The onus is on the person who's accused to demonstrate that the allegations were damaging to one's reputation.

      That means that one can be found guilty on TSTSNBN until proven innocent.

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    4. It is ironic that the very fact that comments on the site are never officially (i.e. in writing) part of academic decision-making makes it safe for them to post anything, by anyone, with no attempt to verify if the poster was even a student in the class, let alone whether the claims are true (those that refer to purported facts, not opinions.) It would take a combination of events (i) the site was warned, and didn't take a comment down; (ii) an academic was denied a job, tenure or a promotion, and comments found on the site are part of the written record of hiring or TPR proceedings. (i) is common, and the moment (ii) happens (and the candidate is made aware of it), they can be nailed.

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    5. Then why hasn't Alan Dershowitz made mincemeat out of them? He does a lot of pro bono work, and he is reviewed, not always favorably, on the site.

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