Student website rattles profs

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By Adam Segal

A Web site that bashes some Ryerson professors is catching flack from faculty and students, but its creator says the site is only meant to help fellow engineering students.

The controversy has also focused criticism on the effectiveness of Ryerson’s course evaluations.

Toby Schaer, a second-year electrical engineering student, and a group of fellow students he won’t identify, started www.waterandpower.net in November. The site provides engineering students with old lab reports, tests, assignments and engineering jokes. It had 400 hits in February alone.

The Web site also contains evaluations written by students—some of which attack instructors’ qualifications and teaching abilities.

The reviews aren’t all negative. One evaluation says an instructor is “a good prof who is going to kick your ass hard—and you better learn to like it.”

But one critique says a professor “knows less than half the class” and asks, “who the hell gave this guy permission to teach?”

Another evaluation mocks a professor’s “troll-like appearance” and his funny walk.

Rachid Belhachemi, a mathematics professor, is upset about an evaluation on the site that challenges his abilities as a professor.

“I have to defend myself against this nonsense,” Belhachemi said, adding he will study the Web site further before deciding what course of action to take.

Brian Rogers, a lawyer who specializes in media law, said if the comments about Belhachemi aren’t supported with concrete evidence, they can be considered libellous because they tarnish his image.

But Schaer insists the reviews are strictly meant to help students, not hurt professors. “We’re not out to damage anyone’s reputation.”

He said the site helps students understand their courses, helping them get better grades.

Computer science professor Alex Ferworn, who is praised by the on-line evaluation, says the site serves students’ needs.

“Any information provided to the students, even if it is a warning [about a professor] will be useful,” Ferworn said.

He criticized the university’s instructor evaluations, which ask students to rate their professors on a scale of one to 10.

“Five out of 10 tells me nothing,” Ferworn said.

And students never see the results of these evaluations.

Still, the Web site tarnishes the reputation of the engineering department, said Nripendra Malhotra, a fourth-year electrical engineering student and president of the Ryerson Electrical and Computer Engineering Student Society.

“We’re trying to build a good reputation for our program,” Malhotra said. “And when [the Web site says] there are professors who can’t teach properly, that’s really bad.”

The chair of electrical and computer engineering, Mehmet Zeytinoglu, said the Web site puts professors at a disadvantage because the critiques are anonymous.

“I don’t like the idea of people hiding behind the Web site,” Zeytinoglu said. “If we’re talking about an open environment, then people should not hesitate to put their name underneath.”

Schaer is quick to point out that university-run professor evaluations are also filled out anonymously.

Zeytinoglu is also upset the site posted an E-mail he sent to engineering students asking why they were not attending a professor’s class.

“That’s a clear violation of privacy issues,” Zeytinoglu said. “That is my private communication with people and without my permission, they are not supposed to put it on the Web.”

Schaer said Zeytinoglu phoned him Saturday and demanded the E-mail be removed from the site. Schaer took the E-mail off and had to skip one of his classes Monday morning to attend a meeting with Zeytinoglu.

At the meeting, Schaer said Zeytinoglu warned him to change the site, or he would tell everyone in the department who runs it.

“If you make claims [about professors],” Zeytinoglu said. “You have to be prepared to take responsibility for that.”

Schaer said the department is just trying to label him a troublemaker. “They just want to have someone to kick around.”

He plans to E-mail every profesor listed on the Web site to get some feedback.

“If someone has a complaint,” he said. “We are willing to listen and do something about it.”

But, he added, “We’re not taking it down.”

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