Amy and Ebenezer, two Rutgers sophomores, were discussing the web site ratemyprofessors.com.
"You know what?" Amy said. "Ratemyprofessors isn't about professors. It's about the kind of students who go to a school."
"What do you mean?" asked Ebenezer. "Professors are professors. Students are students."
"Not so," said Amy. "By looking at the comments, you can figure out in five seconds what kind of school it is."
"I don't believe it," said Ebenezer. "Are you saying that you can tell Rutgers students from students at places like Amherst or Columbia by looking at ratemyprofessors?"
"Absolutely," said Amy. "Ratemyprofessors.com isn't about professors. It's about students."
"Prove it," said Ebenezer.
"Okay," said Amy. " You read that article that lists 'negative' comments about Rutgers professors. Just look at ratemyprofessors. You'll find hundreds of comments like those."
"Okay," assented Ebenezer. "Let me take a look."
"Well, so what?" asked Ebenezer. "That's how college students talk about their professors. Ratemyprofessors just makes it public."
"Not exactly," said Amy sadly. "Just out of curiosity, I went to the Amherst site. The tone there was a bit different."
"Hold on," said Ebenezer. "Did you look only at negative ratings? Like those Rutgers ratings?"
"I did," said Amy. "Negative ratings only."
"I bet," said Ebenezer triumphantly, "they sounded just like the Rutgers ones. Come on, now. Didn't the Amherst kids talk about 'cunt' and 'dickhead' and 'suck dick?'"
Amy showed him a list of comments she'd taken from the Amherst site.
"Well," said Ebenezer, somewhat abashed, "I sort of see what you mean. But don't you think the Rutgers comments are, like, more honest? I mean, how do you know about whether the professor is a cunt or a dickhead if students are using words like 'convoluted' and 'indecipherable' and 'nonsensical?'"
"My point," said Amy impatiently, "is that the Rutgers comments give you the picture of a school that lets in people with fourth-grade spelling, where the campus is crawling with lowlifes who don't know how to be anything but ignorant and gross, who go around bragging about how they cheat on exams, and whose vocabulary stops at words like 'cunt' and 'sucks' and 'dickhead.' Look at these," she said.
"My goodness," said Ebenezer. "Still," he said, brightening up a bit. "The Amherst site must have some comments like the Rutgers ones."
"I looked for them," said Amy. "Here are the harshest ones I found":
"Well," said Ebenezer, "I sort of see what you mean. But wait a minute!," he exclaimed, glimpsing another possibility. "You're right about the Rutgers site. There's a lot of 'dickhead' and 'sucks.' A lot of the comments are illiterate. But how do I know you're not cherry-picking comments from Amherst?"
"Your computer's on," rejoined Amy. "Go to the Amherst site. Bring me back just ONE student comment like the Rutgers ones. I'll wait right here."
Ebenezer opened his laptop and clicked some keys. He spent 35 minutes scrolling and looking intently at the screen.
"I see what you mean," he said disconsolately. "But wait a minute! There's something you're not thinking about. You know perfectly well that the best students at Rutgers never post on ratemyprofessors. They say they don't want to be known as the kind of student who does."
"That," said Amy sadly, "is my point. The stupidest and most illiterate students at Rutgers post constantly on ratemyprofessors. The bright ones never do. So people looking at Rutgers from the outside see a school where students talk about 'sucks' and 'dickhead' and 'cunt' and 'homeworks' and don't know how to spell words like 'condescending.'"
"But," argued Ebenezer hopefully, "that doesn't do any damage. Those are comments by Rutgers students. Only Rutgers students read them."
"Don't kid yourself," said Amy. "High school seniors all over the country look at ratemyprofessors. So do their parents. Not just to see what the professors are like, but what kind of students go to the school. I bet that the ratings with stuff like 'sucks' and 'dickhead' and 'douche bag' and 'condoscending' cost Rutgers a couple of thousand applications a year from bright students who want to go to a real college. The Web is public. Ratemyprofessors is the Rutgers the outside world sees."
"My goodness," said Ebenezer, honestly abashed. He was quiet for a long moment. "I never thought about all this. You've convinced me. Look, I'll call you tonight. I've got to spend a few hours on ratemyprofessors looking at other schools ."
"What other schools?"
"The ones I'm thinking of transferring to."