By Renae Reints
July 11, 2018

RateMyProfessor.com, a popular site among university students for publicly praising or panning their teachers, has dropped its controversial “chili pepper” rating—a sign used to indicate a professor’s attractiveness—after being criticized on social media.

BethAnn McLaughlin, a Vanderbilt University neuroscience professor, began the push back against the chili pepper on Twitter with a post calling the rating “obnoxious and utterly irrelevant to our teaching.” She was inspired by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

After 15,000 likes and thousands of retweets, RateMyProfessor, owned by Viacom Media Networks, responded, saying the chili pepper was meant to “reflect a dynamic/exciting teaching style,” but it nevertheless removed the rating option.

The rating has long been associated with a professor’s “hotness”, and was promoted by RateMyProfessor.com’s 2014 launching of the satirical “Date My Professor” site on April Fools Day in 2014. Buzzfeed reports that RateMyProfessor, founed nearly 20 years ago, also released lists of the “hottest professors” annually between 2009 and 2017.

After seeing a report about sexual harassment in academia, McLaughlin decided to speak out against the RateMyProfessor chili pepper that she says promotes the objectification of women in a profession that is already difficult for women.

“Females make up the majority of educators for our college students yet earn far less than our male colleagues, do more university service and still experience higher levels of sexual harassment than any other profession outside of the military,” she wrote in a blog post on edgeforscholars.org.

“RateMyProfessors is one of the earliest opportunities for students to exert very public power over our careers and reputations,” McLaughlin continued. “Giving us chili peppers is degrading. Put simply, my single mother did not put my brother and me through college and graduate school for 25 years so that I could be measured by a vegetable.”

McLaughlin says she’s spoken with both men and women who found the chili pepper to be “detrimental,” but others said she took the rating too seriously. News organization Poynter cited a tweet by one male professor who wrote, “I was so proud of that rating too… Frankly, if you can’t be light hearted about such an innocuous thing, you need to grow up more than your students.”

McLaughlin lashed back, saying that professor was “creepy” for wanting his students to think he’s hot. In her blog post, she stated that the change on RateMyProfessor.com was a win for academia.

“They chose to show our students that the path forward is not one of pettiness and locker room banter,” wrote McLaughlin, thanking the site for its swift action. “Your executives made the right call quickly and with the moral authority we should all be empowered with when we see that our actions and long held ideas are hurting others. You did the right thing.”

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