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Honored professors question The Princeton Review’s Best Professors list

While all five Ohio State professors named to The Princeton Review’s Best 300 Professors list said they were honored, some found the list and its methodology ambiguous.
The five professors named to the list, published April 3, include Paul Clingan, a lecturer in engineering; Lisa Cravens-Brown, a senior lecturer in psychology; Joseph Irvine, an instructor in business law; Elizabeth Renker, professor of English; and Douglass Schumacher, associate professor of physics.
“How would you even pick that population out?” said Schumacher, who has taught at OSU for about 15 years. “There’s many different ways of measuring who’s a good teacher and who isn’t, and different methods are going to give you entirely different results. So I don’t think we want to take the number too seriously.”
The Best 300 Professors is The Princeton Review’s first publication to name individual professors to a best-of list. The Princeton Review, an education service company that also ranks colleges in categories like best classroom experience, most politically active, least happy students and major fraternity and sorority scenes, partnered with RateMyProfessors.com, a website owned by MTV Networks where students can rate their professors, to create the list.
“We developed this project as a tribute to the extraordinary dedication of America’s undergraduate college professors,” wrote Robert Franek, The Princeton Review’s senior vice president and publisher, in The Princeton Review’s press release for the publication of the list. “The Princeton Review culled an initial list using its surveys of hundreds of thousands of students that revealed the colleges at which students highly rated their professors’ teaching ability and accessibility. Data from RateMyProfessors.com identified more than 42,000 professors at those schools that students had rated on its site. Combining this info, a base list of 1,000 professors was formed. After obtaining further input from school administrators and students, as well as from Princeton Review’s surveys of the professors under consideration, the editors of The Princeton Review made the final choices of the professors they profile in the book.”
Schumacher said he was honored but didn’t know what algorithm The Princeton Review used.
“There couldn’t possibly be a unique, well-defined, authoritative list of the top 300,” Schumacher said. “I don’t think I’m one of the top 300 professors in the country. If there were some absolute way of ranking teachers, and there isn’t, but if there was and if it came out and I was just among the top 300 of this university, I’d be really fine with that because there are a lot of good teachers here.”
Irvine agreed that the list is not exhaustive.
“There are a lot of great teachers,” said Irvine, who has taught at OSU for about 16 years. “I feel bad in a way that they somehow picked out this group.”
Like Schumacher, Renker said she was honored but also didn’t understand The Princeton Review’s methodology.
Renker said she was excited that the list included student input, though.
“I work extremely hard as a teacher,” Renker said. “Teaching is very important to me. My undergraduates are extremely important to me. And there a lot of people in the world who work awfully hard and I feel lucky to be one of those people who also got some kind of affirmation like this.”
While Renker said she was honored, she questioned how this list might be used.
“It’s a new kind of list. I don’t know what it’s going to do, what its social function is going to be,” Renker said. “I’m curious to watch what happens to it because at least when I was reading guides to colleges, they were not centered on individual professors.”
Renker warned prospective undergraduates against using the list as a way to choose a school.
“I would never encourage a student to choose an entire undergraduate experience based on one professor who’s on the list,” Renker said.
Like Renker, Cravens-Brown said she was glad the list emphasized teaching quality.
“I think that there’s a lot of emphasis, and rightly so, placed in large institutions like this on the quality of our research,” Cravens-Brown said. “Maybe we don’t emphasize teaching as strongly in some places. But I also have a strong belief that we couldn’t have a fantastic university if we didn’t have fantastic instructors and excellent researchers,” she said.
As for being named to the list himself, Schumacher was more nonchalant.
“It’s certainly an honor, so I’m happy with that,” Schumacher said. “You can’t take these things too seriously, right?”

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