Registration time is upon us once more and as students sign up for classes, they look to the old college standby—Ratemyprofessor.com—a website that allows students to rate their professors based upon teaching quality, course difficulty and looks. The infamous chili pepper option on the website allows students to mark whether they find their professors attractive or not.
If a professor receives a chili pepper, then that earmarks them as hot. Rate My Professor awards chili peppers based on the overall sum of all ratings (hot or not corresponding to positive and negative) for the instructor. For instance, if I received 8 ratings of hot, and 5 ratings of not, each hot counts as +1, and each not counts as -1, therefore adding positive 8 and negative 5 results in an overall score of positive 3 (Yes, I know I’m doing hardcore math—hang in there with me, the scary part is almost over). Since the rating is positive, I will receive a chili pepper. If it was negative, no chili pepper would appear. When ranking, the professors are ranked via their scores, so a professor with a total score of -3 would be ranked above a professor with a lower score of -5.
While the chili pepper is meant to be indicative of physical beauty, it seems to also have a great deal to do with quality of the professor and how passionate they are about their subject. The more interested in their subject they are and the better they are able to convey that fascination, the higher the chance they’ll receive chili peppers from their students. Of course, attractiveness is something that tends to vary based upon the viewer, but everyone has a general society-created standard that consciously or unconsciously is applied to your professors when making that decision, whether it’s your nerdy-cute lab T.A. or your dashingly handsome English professor who puts Leo DiCaprio to shame when he explains Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare class. However, if a professor is decent looking but stands in front of the class and reads off his notes in a monotonous voice, it’s much less likely for students to give him the ‘hot’ rating on the website.
In 2006, Todd Riniolo, a professor of psychology at Medaille College, published a paper based on a study comparing the teaching evaluations of professors who received chili peppers on Rate My Professor with those of professors who did not. On average, faculty members with chili peppers scored 0.8 points higher than professors who did not, possibly pointing to a link between professors who teach well and general attractiveness.
One Georgia State professor agrees, saying “It doesn’t necessarily matter in terms of pedagogy, only that they can contribute to a professor’s confidence. Furthermore, I believe to give an instructor a chili pepper (particularly a male instructor) one has to like them as a person beyond mere aesthetics, so what the chili pepper communicates is a general likeability along with aesthetic pleasantness. All this can boost an instructor’s confidence and potentially decrease the likelihood of their being boring or adversarial in class.”
With English and the other humanities being the most represented subjects among the ‘hottest’ GSU professors, one can also make the assumption that the more students connect with their professors on an intellectual and personal level, the more likely they are to give them that extra rating. While STEM professors are usually on a tighter schedule to cram in as much information as possible before the end of the term, professors teaching subjects in the humanities have more of an opportunity for class discussions. This allows students to relate a little more than with purely lecture-based teaching, in which the instructor is usually catering to a group of 50 or more students and in which there is little to no time for student-teacher interaction. This perhaps explains the high correlation between those specific subjects and the chili pepper rating.
While students may see the rating as something fun and harmless, some professors find it unprofessional, as if it’s encouraging students to overstep boundaries between education and fun. I can see where they’re coming from, but I disagree with the statement. Students will judge their professors whether there is a chili pepper option or not, and we will still talk about it. All the website does is provide a venue for feedback regarding the instructor for students to share and pass on the information. If a professor is young and attractive, students are more likely to take their class, especially for some of the general core requirements where teaching methods are the same. If I have to see the professor for three hours a week, I know I’d rather have someone with whom I find it easier to relate, and if they’re good looking and passionate about their subject to boot, then that’s just dandy. Overall, the chili pepper is a fun option to look at, and despite the intended purpose, it does seem to have a relationship with how likeable and passionate a professor is.