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RateMyProfessors.com Is Dropping The "Hotness" Rating After Professors Called It Sexist

"Life is hard enough for female professors. Your 'chili pepper' rating of our 'hotness' is obnoxious and utterly irrelevant to our teaching."

Posted on June 28, 2018, at 5:02 p.m. ET

RateMyProfessors.com dropped its "hotness" rating on Thursday after professors complained that it was sexist, a spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

The MTV-owned website, which has been around since 1999, allows college students to publicly rate their professors on a number of traits, including quality and difficulty, as well as a number of descriptors such as "amazing lectures" and "beware of pop quizzes."

Additionally, students can rate the professor on their "hotness," as indicated by a red chili pepper icon.

The pepper has been a long-standing feature of the site, and Rate My Professors even published lists of the "hottest professors" across the country every academic year between 2009 and 2017.

On Tuesday, BethAnn McLaughlin, a neurology professor at Vanderbilt University, tweeted a complaint about the long-standing feature.

Dear @ratemyprofessor Life is hard enough for female professors. Your 'chili pepper' rating of our 'hotness' is obnoxious and utterly irrelevant to our teaching. Please remove it because #TimesUP and you need to do better. Thanks, Female College Prof

"Dear @ratemyprofessor," McLaughlin wrote. "Life is hard enough for female professors. Your 'chili pepper' rating of our 'hotness' is obnoxious and utterly irrelevant to our teaching. Please remove it because #TimesUP and you need to do better."

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After McLaughlin's tweet went viral, many other professors chimed in and called for Rate My Professors to remove the chili pepper.

The chili pepper is incredibly creepy and frankly, it makes the job of being taken seriously that much harder for women and young faculty, in my experiences. Please remove it, @ratemyprofessor. Outward appearances have NO bearing on teaching. #college #HigherEducation #academia https://t.co/iplG3Jbaea

"I would prefer my student respect my brain than my hotness," one professor tweeted.

I agree. I was sharing with high school students yesterday how difficult it is for female professors as we are often scrutinized and criticized for our appearance (including attire) much more than male professors are. I would prefer my student respect my brain than my hotness. https://t.co/mWTj2bGFbK

"It's annoying as a Male prof," another tweeted. "Can't imagine how unsettling it would be as a female prof."

It's annoying as a Male prof. Cant imagine how unsettling it would be as a female prof. https://t.co/Bjqe3B0HIW

Many professors called for a boycott of the website until it removed the feature.

This is indeed ridiculous - it is time for a full boycott of @ratemyprofessor until the remove the entire system of rating profs by appearance https://t.co/bMnX4t6bkm

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In an interview with BuzzFeed News on Wednesday, McLaughlin called the rating system "blatantly sexist."

Supplied

McLaughlin is not listed on the website because her teaching consists of smaller group mentorship rather than large classroom settings, she said.

Still, she's seen the "hotness" rating affect many of her female colleagues negatively, she said.

"Some of my friends who had taught previously and meet the criteria for quote-unquote hotness ... that's not always a badge of honor," she said. "They're often targets of comments about how they look and how they dress, and it undermines their credibility."

"They come in with outstanding teaching capability and are really feeling like they're making these earnest connections with our students," she said. "And then to be sort of denigrated and pushed aside that you were sexy. … That’s not a context you want to be sexy in, that’s not a compliment."

McLaughlin said that she's now hearing from male professors who've had uncomfortable experiences due to the chili pepper.

"What I'm hearing now through Twitter, which I wasn’t aware of before, are male colleagues saying, 'I don't want my students to even consider how sexually attracted they are to me,'" she said. "It makes for horrible dynamics, for power differentials, and feeling awkward."

The "hotness" rating is "not aging well," particularly as science and academia go through their own #MeToo reckoning.

In May, McLaughlin circulated a petition calling for the removal of sexual harassers from the National Academy of Sciences, which got nearly 4,000 signatures.

"Time’s up," said McLaughlin. "There’s nothing we can do to Rate My Professors other than ask them to take a real inventory of the times that we live in."

Following McLaughlin's tweet, and after BuzzFeed News reached out to MTV, Rate My Professors confirmed that it had "removed all chili pepper references" from the site.

@McLNeuro .@McLNeuro The chili pepper rating is meant to reflect a dynamic/exciting teaching style. But, your point is well taken and we’ve removed all chili pepper references from the Rate My Professors site.

In the tweet, the company claimed that the pepper is "meant to reflect a dynamic/exciting teaching style." However, many of the company's tweets indicate that it was explicitly based on appearances.

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For a 2014 April Fools' Day prank, the company said that it was launching "Date My Professors." The announcement prominently featured the site's signature chili peppers.

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