The first site that pops up when googling Audrey Taves is RateMyProfessors.com. A comment boldly states she is not interested in teaching her students.
Taves has been a teacher in the Health and Sciences Department at Humber for more than 30 years and is currently President of the Humber College Faculty Union.
“When I read it, I was concerned someone felt that way,” she said. “I never had any feedback like that. It made me sad that I wasn’t able to reach out to that student.”
She said she works day in and day out trying to make improvements that will benefit the staff and students, and that one little anonymous comment lurks online, waiting to create a false first impression.
Students need to rate the impact comments could have on teachers before they take to the Internet to vent.
Though she tries to look as it as someone expressing their opinion, she sees potential for bullying and harassment in sites like RateMyProfessor, a site that allows students share positive and negative feedback on their teachers.
“People tend to post things when they’re either thrilled, or very upset for a particular reason and aren’t always thinking clearly,” Taves said.
The recent Dalhousie University dentistry case where 13 male students have been accused of posting misogynistic comments about female classmates is causing students to think twice before posting comments online.
“People have to realize when something’s on the web, everyone can see it. It’s not the same as mumbling something at the lunch table with another student,” said Taves.
Cory Boyd, a human rights lawyer at Rubin Thomlinson, visited Humber Jan. 26 and gave a lecture entitled “The Prevention of Psychological Harassment and Bullying in the Workplace.”
“If you are engaging in certain behaviour and think it will be treated differently because it’s online, that may not be the case. Online is an extension of our day to day in-person interactions,” Boyd said.
He thinks sites like RateMyProfessor can be a valuable tool for students trying to figure out what classes to take, but there’s a potential for misuse.
Many students post defamatory comments about their teachers after receiving poor grades, or getting into personal disputes with their instructors.
“Some students don’t put effort into their work and blame it on the teacher. They post stuff because they want to take their anger out on someone,” said first-year Sports Management student T.C. Vardolos.
Luckily bullying at Humber is not a widespread issue. Taves attributes the low number of incidents to small class sizes, where students form personal relationships with their teachers and feel comfortable discussing issues in person.
The potential for cyber bullying of professors increases in large universities where class sizes sometimes exceed 200 students and one-on-one relationships are not possible.
“If you don’t have a relationship, you have nothing to lose,” Taves said.