In the three years senior mechanical engineering major Andrew
Panariso has attended CSU, he has enrolled in classes that reaffirm
the reasons he chose to be a mechanical engineering major. He has
also enrolled in classes that have made him question his
“I’ve thought, ‘is this what I really want to do?'” Panariso
said. “Teachers have a lot to do with liking a class. If I had a
choice of teachers, I would only take the good ones.”
Students can find out opinions on which professors are the “good
ones” at ramratings.com, a Web site unaffiliated with CSU, created
to allow students to post their opinions about CSU professors.
“It’s an important tool that tries to give students a voice,”
said Kennan Blehm, a senior computer science major and creator of
A CSU student himself, Blehm also attempted to make professors
more aware of their teaching styles through the Web site.
“When a professor is not doing a good job, and is aware of it, I
think it has the potential to cultivate change,” Blehm said.
Most classes administer a student course survey at the end of
the semester. These surveys ask the student to comment on his/her
experiences with the professor and the course itself.
Although students can access the statistical information of the
course survey through the Associated Students of CSU’s Web site,
they are not able to access any written comments.
But now they can.
When Blehm started ramratings.com, his vision was to create a
useful tool for students to read about professors by reading their
“I wanted to hear more about the good teachers than the bad
teachers,” Blehm said. “I wanted to know who would teach a good
Blehm modeled the Web site after polyratings.com, a similar site
used by students at California Polytechnic State University (Cal
Poly) in San Luis Obispo, Calif., to evaluate their professors.
Forrest Lanning co-founded polyratings.com in 1998 while living
in the residence hall as a freshman at Cal Poly.
“We were looking at Amazon.com and realized that people could
read evaluations on books before actually buying them,” Lanning
said. “We thought it was a good idea; students could evaluate a
professor’s teaching style and other people could read about it
before taking the class.”
Soon the site was overflowing with evaluations from students, so
many that Lanning and his friends were unable to regulate all the
“Most students did constructive criticism, but some people would
post personal information about the professor,” Lanning said.
“Professors started wondering if it was ethical.”
A Web site like ramratings.com could be useful to the CSU
faculty, said Alan Tucker, vice provost for faculty affairs at
“If the written comments are edited, removing derogatory and
demeaning postings, the faculty would find it helpful to see a
random sample of students talking about their class,” he said.
He said that faculty members confident in their teaching might
be less affected by comments than those who have had difficulty
with students in the past.
Tucker added that the Web site is merely providing a forum for
students to communicate with more people.
“It’s an online version of conversations that already go on,” he
But on ramratings.com, there are very few evaluations for each
professor, some with none at all.
Brent Reeves, vice president of the Faculty Council, reviewed
the Web site and questioned its statistical validity.
“In a class of 180 students, if you get 2 or 3 evaluations it’s
not indicative of everyone’s opinion,” Reeves said. “It has
potential of being good, but for it to have any statistical
validity, it’s got to have more samples.”
A mycologist professor in the biology department, Reeves said he
finds constructive criticism from his students useful.
“We all have room for improvement,” he said.
Daniel Wood, a senior engineering major, said he would be wary
of the negative comments made about professors on the site.
“You don’t know the person (making the comments), or what kind
of student they are, so I’d stick to the positive views and what
people liked about the teaching,” he said. “You can usually tell
the intelligent response from (the response of) someone who is just
Reeves said the Web site has the potential of being abused,
adding that not all the comments should to be taken seriously.
“It’s one of those things that will be humorous, and some will
get bent out of shape about it,” Reeves said. “Students should hold
onto their hats, it’s going to be a ride.”