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RateMyProfessor'sAppearance.com 1

Kerry Soper for The Chronicle Review

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Kerry Soper for The Chronicle Review

Let's be honest: Most of us are never going to see one of those red-hot chili peppers next to our names on RateMyProfessors.com. Who knows why? Certainly it couldn't be that extra 15 pounds, rapidly graying and/or receding hair, weird teeth, or consignment-quality wardrobe. We may get raves about our senses of humor, our knowledge of an arcane field, or our ability to be "fair" in our grading, but most of us will never have the satisfaction of being considered caliente.

It is unfair that only the few youthful, freakishly good-looking faculty members among us get all of those chili-pepper accolades. So I propose that the following consolation icons be included on the site's menu:

The Pizza Slice. This is for faculty members who make an effort, however misguided, to appear youthful and hip after passing the 40-year mark. Students are saying, "Yes, it is embarrassing to observe a middle-aged man (or woman) in expensive jeans, funky shoes, and trendy shirt, but it seems to make you happy—so go for it. Better that you be delusional and cheerful than depressed, grouchy, and fully aware of how old and pathetic you actually look."

The Espresso Cup. The student here is saying, "I can see that you have a coherent style going on there: an array of black and gray clothing that has a vague, critical-theory hipness to it. And good job on finding the right kind of severe glasses and retro haircut to fit the look. Personally, I find this aesthetic dull and pretentious, but it is fun to see you strike self-conscious poses at the whiteboard, like some kind of morose poet in a Sears catalog for existentialists."

The Lump of Tofu. With this icon, the student is suggesting: "I gather from all of your references to vegan dietary ethics and your frequently expressed contempt for the eating habits of our fast-food nation that you're taking good care of yourself nutritionally. That internal health may not be reflected in your sallow complexion, bird's nest of unkempt hair, and lethargic demeanor, but I'll take your word on this one, nevertheless."

The Half-Eaten Protein Bar. This is a student's way of saying: "You may not be an especially attractive human being, but it does appear that you spend a lot of time at the gym attempting to get into shape. Good job, in other words, for trying. Yes, you may have weird hair, lame clothes, and dorky glasses, but I'm sure that somewhere under the extra 15 pounds you've accumulated over the years, there must be some nicely sculpted delts and pecs."

The Pressed Flower. The student here is suggesting that "it looks as if you may have been hip and attractive at one point in your life. And guessing from your big hair, lavender pantsuit with the puffy shoulder pads, and bright pumps, that year was probably 1986. Thank you for preserving this historical look for future generations."

The Bow Tie. This is for professors determined to maintain an ivory-tower dress code established in a previous century. The student is saying, "Yes, that stuffy little bow tie looks ridiculous on your portly frame; your frumpy oxford shirts are stained and frayed; and I have never seen a jacket that is so depressingly brown and textured. Nevertheless, your stereotypically fussy sense of style does help me feel like I'm getting my money's worth as a college student."

The Cassava Root. The student is acknowledging that "you do, indeed, seem to be a well-traveled, open-minded, and culturally sensitive person, with all of that colorful clothing you wear from various ethnic traditions. Your pale skin color and Midwestern accent place you somewhere north of Des Moines, but from the look of that dress, you may also be an honorary member of a West African tribe. Way to go."

The Pocket Protector. A student here is congratulating a professor on being unabashedly (or unconsciously) nerdy in his or her appearance: "It's clear that you just don't care, and that's awesome. We get a kick out of your functional polyester slacks; limp, faded shirts; and grimy, heavy-framed glasses. Don't change! We feel comforted knowing that none of your valuable research and class-prep time is eaten up with frivolous concerns over wearing same-colored socks, changing your pants every day, or taking any extra time to match up the buttons with the proper buttonholes in that threadbare shirt."

The Piña Colada With a Little Umbrella. The student is simply pointing out that: "Wow, that is a really casual look you've got going there: cruddy sandals, baggy Bermuda shorts, and some sort of open-collared, vacationy-looking shirt. I also notice that shaving and hair-washing are often optional parts of your morning routine. It's hard to believe that a professor could look more lackadaisical about his appearance than a hung-over freshman, but you've pulled it off. Good job at finding a career where you can get away with that."

The Crystal. This icon allows students to say: "Thank you for entertaining us with your loopy New Age persona and aesthetics. That gauzy skirt, peasant blouse, and wild hair may be a poor fashion choice for a sedentary woman in her 50s, but we are grateful that your enthusiasm for Wiccan healing practices, goddess mythologies, and heavy turquoise jewelry appears to distract you from focusing too closely on our half-hearted attempts at writing."

The Harmonica. This is for the securely upper-middle-class prof who enjoys wearing faux working-class garb: scuffed leather boots, aged denim, faded T-shirts, and Teamster-style plaid button-ups. Students can say: "We don't get your fetish for all things Springsteen, and your folky, left-leaning political references are about 40 to 50 years out of date, but we appreciate the laid-back, democratic ambiance you bring to the class. Indeed, it makes it difficult for you to say no to our requests for grade adjustments when you find out that we, too, are from humble, working-class roots."

The Power Tie. This is for the prof who seems to belong (or perhaps has once belonged) in corporate America rather than academe. The student is saying, "You must be a misguided Republican adjunct—a refugee from the downsized business world—or some kind of weird, moonlighting administrator. How else to explain the worn-out black dress shoes, Brooks Brothers shirts with the frayed collars, silk ties that were fashionable maybe 10 years ago, and that heavily gelled hair? Nice job on keeping me distracted from your dry lectures with this fashion conundrum."

In sum, there should be a little something for everyone in my list of alternative icons. I urge the creators of RateMyProfessors.com to adopt these suggestions. The egos of thousands of well-intentioned but fashion- and body-challenged professors are in your hands. I await your response, as I sit here sweating from a recent jog, self-consciously squirming in my expensive jeans, funky glasses, and Peruvian shirt, none of which seem to be doing a very good job at hiding my 15 extra pounds.

Kerry Soper is an associate professor in the department of humanities, classics, and comparative literature at Brigham Young University.


1. robertkase51 - September 13, 2010 at 09:43 am

Just what we need in higher ed...more sterotypes. We spent a lifetime trying to get past all of them and now... even in humor...we are back creating more of them again. (sigh)

2. mccoyshelley - September 13, 2010 at 09:58 am

Maybe we should retaliate with a "Rate Your Students" site and, because of FERPA, not mention names but simply use the stereotypes. For instance, there's "don't get too close to a magnet with those piercings," and "I know your life history from your tatoos and you have my sympathy." Looking ridiculous isn't confined to one age group.

3. johnskm - September 13, 2010 at 10:26 am

Funny stuff, Kerry. Thanks. C'mon folks, get over the stereotypes thing. I direct a professional development program for future faculty and wow, so they ALSO get younger every year. They often ask me for tips on how to set sartorial hierarchies, defaulting most often to something semi-formal (that you'd wear at a function you didn't really want to go to.). I do warn them against dressing down to the point of their charges. Yep, I'd love a rating scale for students. How would one represent pajamas? With a baby rattle? Or what about the now-banal porno-chik drummed into the heads of student by shows like Jersey Shores. ugh...oh wait...maybe now I'm stereotyping (?).

4. misstrudy - September 13, 2010 at 11:39 am

I enjoyed this. Yes, these are stereotypes, but you're poking fun at them. Furthermore, professors just reflect general fashion trends in communities at large. There are people who dress like this and are not academics, as well. It was fun, I think I saw myself described in a combination of two of the stereotypes. But I know that just because I may fall somewhat into those, doesn´t desscribe who I really am. It would be nice to see it counterbalanced by a similar take on students.

5. dduncan833 - September 13, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I've also thought of a "rate my students site." One obvious competation would be "how low can you go?" Just this fall I had a student who came a week late into my class. The reason? "I was sitting in the room next door all last week, when I (finally) noticed that they weren't teaching the subject I signed up for. I guess I wrote the room number down wrong." Those chile-less profs must all look the same to him.

6. almelle - September 13, 2010 at 12:27 pm

If y'all are looking for a "rate my students site," check out the archives of http://rateyourstudents.blogspot.com/, which ran for five years (2005-2010) as a blog critiquing students, colleages, and the academic life...

7. annegjones - September 13, 2010 at 01:45 pm

Love the ideas and the writing, Kerry Soper! Now, what do you think the red-hot chili pepper REALLY means? How about "You may learn nothing else here, but you will really enjoy the erotic reveries stimulated by sitting in front of him/her for a semester"?

8. mmarion - September 13, 2010 at 05:10 pm

Seems just plain silly

9. more_cowbell - September 14, 2010 at 12:21 am

Haha! Why not? Students are always asked to focus and specilize. Too many profs get chili peppers out of sympathy anyways.

10. lhbphd - September 14, 2010 at 01:35 am

I was securely chili peppered back when I was young and pretty, which put me just over the edge for tenure. Now I'm working on the Pina Colada with the Little Umbrella. Besides, you can afford a much better brand of tequila if you cut your own hair with a pair of kitchen scissors. Abolutely hilarious!

11. secorrea - September 14, 2010 at 03:47 am

Haha!! I got some of those until I gained 70 pounds. I do not care less.

12. secorrea - September 14, 2010 at 03:49 am

Who cares if i am Fat...I am a Ph.D!!!!

13. 12052592 - September 14, 2010 at 08:59 am

I can't speak for female students, but as a 20 year old male with raging hormones, that red-hot chili pepper prof had me paying attention in class. Barely enough to not pay attention to the red-hot chili pepper 20 year old females who ignored me in class.

14. softshellcrab - September 14, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I'm already rated low on the ratemyprofessor site. I'll be rated even worse on this one...

15. drassessment - September 14, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Maybe we shuld just not wear anything . . . . .then again, maybe not!

16. tommoffitt - September 15, 2010 at 08:15 am

Good for fun. But it's a "no win" scenario for instructors. What gets an acceptable rating?

17. worstprofever - September 15, 2010 at 10:18 am

LOL -- and more articles like this! I never looked at RMP but I had a few, ahem, fanboys and while that didn't please my colleagues, I found it a pretty amusing ego boost. But I think you're right, RMP needs to embrace the realities of the academic wardrobe. Its stylistic vision is far too limited.

18. newlytenuredprof - September 15, 2010 at 10:40 am

You've absolutely nailed it! Caustic and hilarious. --a former art student and now 40-something "Espresso Cup" professor

19. bemusedprof - September 15, 2010 at 11:37 am

I don't understand the problem. I am a 65-year-old man, morbidly obese, with a bald spot the size of a skull cap, and I have a chili pepper on ratemyprofessors.com (and a stack of "best professor awards). I presume that this "honor" came from the same source as the collie who was voted Homecoming Queen. The best part of it was watching the outraged people who got chili peppers and ranted about being judged for their looks rather than their brains, but then were outraged again that I got a chili pepper too. My wife says she loves me; what else is important?

20. coachtmbsc - September 15, 2010 at 12:47 pm

All of the discontent over stereotypes as if we don't really use them everyday to pigeon-hole each other. It'd be so nice if at least the acaedmics would concede that these "stereotypes" (which are really not stereotypes at all but are generalizations) have some validity to them.

As I sit here in my baggy shorts, flowered shirt with red hibiscus, and sandals trying to remember not to use "dude" or "awesome" in my posts; guess where the surfboard and I are going later this afternoon. Friends, they aren't stereotypes at all - they're outward visual expressions of personality that are identifiable to each and every one of us.

What's real is real - and I'm really going surfing now, dudes.

21. onewhostayed - September 15, 2010 at 03:14 pm

Kerry Soper, you are hilarious! Lighten up people.

22. angiefox15 - September 15, 2010 at 04:25 pm

Very, very, very funny.

23. lutoslawski - September 15, 2010 at 10:12 pm

I loved this article! The nice thing about tenure is that you finally grow up and realize that what the students think of you doesn't matter -- you aren't going to starve if they don't like you. And ironically enough, this makes you a lot more attractive.

24. simoan - September 16, 2010 at 11:45 am

Do you wish your students thought in such sophisticated language and concept? I do!

I suspect pizza means something like bad skin and espresso cup means bad breath to many typical college students.

25. mvclibrary - September 17, 2010 at 09:50 am

Eat your hearts out - I got a chili pepper after the age of 50, and that was WITH the extra weight, gray hair and bifocals. Seems some students really do have a sense of irony...

26. facdevniu - September 17, 2010 at 10:04 am

Thanks, Kerry, for a "Friday Fun" article. As I read the (stereotypes/generalizations/visual expressions), I kept thinking of what I will wear the next time I teach my evening class - not that I don't concern myself with my appearance, but now I will even more! Thank you for a lighthearted and informative (especially the responses) bit of fun.

27. dvacchi - September 17, 2010 at 10:33 am

Great humor at the start of my work day - well done!

28. racheltoor - September 17, 2010 at 10:54 am

How about a bunch of sour grapes for those professors who have no sense of humor, take themselves more seriously than anyone else--students or colleagues or editors--takes them, and are quick to become studidly critical and act offended whenever someone gets published in a place where they can only comment on-line and anonymously?

Nice piece. I enjoyed it.

Rachel Toor

29. adamingus - September 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Re your vegan prof with his/her unsavory "lump of tofu" rating: the reference to the "sallow complexion, bird's nest of unkempt hair, and lethargic demeanor" leads me to believe that you a) are not a vegan, nor, probably, a vegetarian, b) either do not know any vegans, many of whom are some of the ruddiest, most energetic folks I know, or the vegan(s) you do know is a "Taco Bell" vegan, which is to say, not a vegan at all, and/or c) you, like most omnivores, feel a twinge of inexplicable guilt in the presence of vegans and vegetarians (vegans especially) that, because you know so little about the actual choices that go into this lifestyle (it is not all Safran-Foer-esque animal rights activism; much of it is Pollan-esque food policy reform activism), becomes a kind of low grade hostility arising from what you perceive, on some level, as the tacit judgmentalism of a vegan's eating habits, as if they are accusing you of moral wrongdoing merely by refraining on various ethic grounds from food you enjoy.

I understand the spirit of this otherwise entertaining piece is humorous, but it is those casual wink-wink gestures among omnivores at the expense of vegans and vegetarians that tend to perpetuate the stereotypes that neurtralize the good cultural and political work that people like Pollan, Safran-Foer, Michelle Obama, and Jamie Oliver are trying to do for this unforgiveably overweight country. Veganism is certainly not for everyone--not, indeed, for most people. But the kinds of critical thinking that those of us in the humanities make it our point to instill in our students should apply first and foremost to the most fundamental choices we make everyday. And what we put in our body is the most basic and far-reaching choice we make. It is a choice with ethical, political, social, cultural, and most importantly, nutritional stakes that ramify well beyond out individual lives.

Of course, you may know this and were simply parroting the off-hand, superficial comment typical of student evaluations of teachers' looks. In which case, kudos.

30. molly1 - September 17, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Hilarious -- thanks so much for some good fun at the start of the day. Loved the baby rattle suggestion in the comments too.

31. shushufindi - September 17, 2010 at 02:24 pm

I got by for 30 years with khaki pants, navy blue polo shirts, and black Rockport walking shoes. It made life a little simpler and easier.

32. facdevniu - September 17, 2010 at 02:41 pm

Good grief adamingus, lighten up. It's Friday for goodness sake!!

33. hchambliss - September 17, 2010 at 03:18 pm

Absolutely hilarious! Made my Friday! Thanks!!

34. advocata_diavoli - September 17, 2010 at 03:21 pm

lighten up, already... it's called a sense of humor.

35. barryrice - September 17, 2010 at 05:53 pm

If the author looks like this Kerry Soper, she deserves a red-hot chili pepper. :) http://www.facebook.com/people/Kerry-Soper/1526294789#!/profile.php?id=1526294789

36. soperk - September 17, 2010 at 09:19 pm

barryrice: Just to clarify, I'm a male. (I know, my first name creates some confusion; after writing a satiric piece several years ago for the Chronicle about adjunct robots taking over the academy, I got an awkward love letter from an eighty year old gent. I'm still working on my response.)

I'm afraid that the six month window of opportunity when I may have garnered a chili pepper as a new thirty-something prof is long gone.

Apologies to those offended by the typing. I tried to make them all about slightly vain, oblivious, or delusional fashion/lifestyle choices (of which most of us are guilty) rather than an inherent identity marker. Swift's rule that you can't just mock someone because they were born funny looking seems to be a helpful standard.

Thanks to those who've given kind feedback--I really appreciate it.

37. sachb - September 17, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Ridiculous!! why should a professor strive to be of the worst dressed, worst smelling type. I like to take care of my appearance as much as I do my intellect. This does not make me any less intelligent or any less productive. Enough with the stereotype of the malodorous scattered mind professor. I do not know in which world the writer lives, but at my institution, faculty do not neglect their appearances,and they teach well and publish a great deal, too.

38. 11161452 - September 18, 2010 at 12:42 am

At the risk of further antagonizing adamingus...I'm sitting here enjoying the phrase "Taco Bell vegan". Hadn't heard that one.

BTW, you know, it's not that easy to remove shoulder pads from those suits we bought in the eighties! Be nice.

39. maryrhoda - September 18, 2010 at 07:53 am

What a fun classification essay for a once hip, but now overly demanding college English professsor whose name flanked by a frowning icon on this vulgar site. BTW, my local, United Faculty of Miami Dade College has, in fact, inaugurated a RATE MY ADMINISTRATOR link on our web site.

40. dannyboy547 - September 18, 2010 at 09:00 am

You've overlooked one: the pill. That says: thank you for taking your medications. It brings your autism down the spectrum into Asperberger's range. A few more of those babies and you'll turn around from the board and make eye-contact with the class.

41. mwintersole - September 18, 2010 at 10:29 am

thanks for the enlightening and enjoyable piece. i may fall into several of these categories, depending on the day of the week. maybe i should just wear camo to blend in. also, as a vegetarian, i don't get the diatribe above. grow a sense of humor, please. it goes really well with the veg sensiblity.

42. thomasmrobson - September 18, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Maybe the funniest thing I've read on the Chronicle in a long time. I'm currently sitting at a coffee house churning out dissertation pages, and I read this during a writing break. I got very strange looks from the other patrons when I started guffawing out loud. Thanks for making my Saturday more fun!

43. tidger - September 18, 2010 at 02:20 pm

ADAMINGUS: One can actually get vegan food at Taco Bell. I hit the one here in Iowa City when my blood sugar starts going South... your response is soso refreshing here... as a ridiculously healthy Vegetarian for over 30 years, I too grow tired of the stereotypes. This article is so well-written & hilarious that I want to share it with my students. However, my Aspie will get offended. Sigh.

Like to point out what's expected of female faculty is far different than attire for male faculty & I can assure OP I'd never get away with a set uniform of navy shirts & dockers my entire academic career. Oh, no, no, no... already skating on collective thin ice by simply donning pants as an adjunct. ~shudders.

Thanks for this! To use an unusual adjective for someone animal-friendly, Killer.

44. diana_young - September 18, 2010 at 09:44 pm

I wish I had a good enough job to even be considered on the rating sites. Count your blessings, peeps, even if you are being steretyped.

45. grendel - September 19, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Very funny. I think the mixture of praise and pity she imagines that students are bestowing upon their professors sounds about right.

46. facultydiva - September 20, 2010 at 08:41 am

Hilarious! As an undergrad, I took 2 courses from the same prof. in his late 60s that met on alternating days so I knew that he only changed his shirt every 3-4 days and only bathed once a week whether he thought he needed it or not - and he did!

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