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Who is free from public comment?

Old 03-31-08, 08:41 AM
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Who is free from public comment?

http://www.csmonitor.com/2008/0331/p09s03-coop.html
France's freedom of expression is being challenged in court – by teachers.
By Ronald Sokol

Aix-en-Provence, France - France is known for its great restaurants. Chefs are singled out and graded by anonymous critics who award or withdraw stars to their restaurants. So seriously are these grades taken that from time to time a chef will commit suicide upon losing a star. Yet no starless chef has ever turned to the French judicial courts for relief from this scrutiny. Recently a more sensitive group, one that enjoys tenure for life, sought and won deliverance from their critics in a French court.

A website went live in January allowing students in France to grade their teachers online based on six specific criteria such as motivation, interest, and clarity. The teachers were named. The students, for obvious reasons, remained anonymous.

This did not go over well with teachers. The main teachers' union sued to shut down the site, and a French trial court ruled in its favor, citing that freedom of speech ends when it affects teaching and that an uncensored discussion forum risked "becoming polemical."

The practice of students grading their teachers began long before the Internet, but did not seem to have given rise to litigation. The worldwide reach of the Internet, though, has raised the ante.

Another site that has gained recent popularity in France is one for posting anonymous evaluations of doctors. Lawyers, dentists, accountants, veterinarians, perhaps even judges, cannot be far behind. They, too, may be subject to globally published appraisals. Is this a good or bad thing? Is it an exercise in freedom of speech or an invasion of a right to be free from public comment?

Freedom of expression is guaranteed in France and the other 46 countries of the Council of Europe by the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that "this right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas." Of course, there are well-known exceptions in Europe as in the United States. Defaming others, inciting violence, or, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote, "to shout fire in a crowded theater" are off limits.

But what constitutes defamation or an invitation to violence is not always clear. An expression of an opinion is generally not defamatory if it is made in good faith and not maliciously, but malice is subjective. If a student gives a teacher a bad grade on a website, who knows if his or her intent is malicious?

If my doctor or dentist made me wait three hours in his office and I post a note to that effect online, am I acting maliciously or just informing the public? If I thought my lawyer charged too much for his services or failed to keep me informed about my case and I post my observations on the Internet citing his or her name, am I defaming my lawyer, invading his privacy, or simply expressing my opinion?

Of course some comments and student grades may not be justified. There may have been a good reason that the doctor kept me waiting three hours. He was operating, and the surgery took longer than anticipated. The lawyer's fee may have been lower than what other lawyers charge for the same service. The teacher may have given an excellent lecture but the students who appreciated it did not happen to post their reaction. Yet the expression of misinformed opinions should not be an adequate reason to suppress speech or restrict publication.

The idea of free speech is that people should be able to express their views without constraint, even if their views are wrong. Out of the chaos and struggle of conflicting ideas, better ideas emerge.

That teachers would sue to stifle student speech that reflects upon their own performance sets a depressingly low example of the value placed on that freedom by the teachers' union. Nor is it encouraging that the French minister of education supported the union in its suit to suppress nondefamatory speech.

The teacher case has been appealed. Let's hope a French appellate court will show a more robust appreciation of what is perhaps the most fundamental of all freedoms. Meanwhile my wife has proposed creating a site where wives can grade their husbands – but that surely falls beyond the scope of free speech.

Ronald Sokol practices law in Aix-en-Provence, France. He is the author of several books and articles, including "Justice After Darwin, Freedom of Expression in France: The Mitterrand-Dr. Gubler Affair."
No I didn't post this as a "let's pick on France" thread. I just thought it might be an interesting thread/topic about freedom of speech and how the I'net is changing what that means.
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Old 03-31-08, 08:50 AM
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I have no problem with public commentary on teachers as long as slander/libel isn't being committed. I think this would be a great resource at a university level where you are selecting classes, and part of that selection is based on the professor teaching the class. We had to fill out professor evaluations at the end of every course in college. I don't know what happened with those results and if/how they were used.

I can see why teachers wouldn't like it though.
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Old 03-31-08, 09:27 AM
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Sounds like Rate My Professor (www.ratemyprofessors.com). This site has been around for years, and I've found it to be an invaluable resource for selecting good professors.

I have no problem with something like this.
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Old 03-31-08, 09:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Red Dog
We had to fill out professor evaluations at the end of every course in college. I don't know what happened with those results and if/how they were used.

I can see why teachers wouldn't like it though.
A friend had a rough time in a college chem class with a TA that he had for labs and recitation. His comment on her eval was, "If I ever have this TA for another class I will slit my wrists." Ouch.
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Old 03-31-08, 10:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Red Dog
We had to fill out professor evaluations at the end of every course in college. I don't know what happened with those results and if/how they were used.
At a college where research isn't a big priority those evaluations can have an impact on promotion and tenure. Of course, if your instructor was already a full professor then they don't really matter much. At a research institution student evaluations mean much less overall.
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Old 03-31-08, 12:03 PM
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I would use ratemyprofessor.com if I had a choice at certain times. Often however I would take whoever fit into my schedule.
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Old 03-31-08, 12:16 PM
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Originally Posted by spainlinx0
I would use ratemyprofessor.com if I had a choice at certain times. Often however I would take whoever fit into my schedule.
From what I remember of the later years at school (junior/senior/grad school) as the classes get more specialized your pretty much SOL if you don't like the instructor since they are the only one for that class in the first place.
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Old 03-31-08, 12:47 PM
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Originally Posted by nemein
From what I remember of the later years at school (junior/senior/grad school) as the classes get more specialized your pretty much SOL if you don't like the instructor since they are the only one for that class in the first place.
Many grad students pick a school/program/area of interest in order to work with a specific prof, instead of it being their area of interest. So, it can work both ways.
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Old 03-31-08, 01:04 PM
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My wife has found ratemyprofessor to be an invaluable resource for her in picking her classes.
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Old 03-31-08, 02:41 PM
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What about something like RateMyCop?

Originally Posted by TheAgitator.com
So even as police departments across the country are setting up sex offender registries, drug offender registries, and posting the mugs and names of suspected johns online, they also took a great deal umbrage early this month when Gino Sesto set up a site called RateMyCop.com. The premise is simple: Sesto wrote to police departments across the country, and obtained a list of the names and badge numbers of their officers. He then posted the names online in a format broken down by state and city, and encouraged users to rate their experiences with individual officers. All of the information he posted was already open to the public. He didn’t post the identities of any undercover officers.

Police groups went nuts, making the dubious argument that the site somehow jeopardized the safety of individual officers. Sesto said he had even planned on adding a feature that would allow individual officers to write responses to complaints made against them. But police groups persisted.

Jerry Dyer, president of the California Police Chiefs Association told Wired the site could give citizens the opportunity to "unfairly malign" individual officers, and said he’d be asking the legislature to pass a law making sites like RateMyCop.com illegal.

Last week, it all got weirder. Hosting service GoDaddy mysteriously terminated Sesto’s account, and pulled RateMyCop.com offline. GoDaddy has offered several explanations to Wired’s ThreatLevel blog, but thus far, none of them have made much sense. Sesto gave up on GoDaddy, and next tried to get the site hosted at RackSpace. They turned him down. After initial accepting his down payment for hosting services, a RackSpace lawyer sent a letter to Sesto stating that, "We believe that the website to be found at www.ratemycop.com as described to our sales representative could create a risk to the health and safety of law enforcement officers."
More here.
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Old 03-31-08, 05:15 PM
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I'm a public elementary school teacher and I wouldn't mind it but it would have to have some kind of regulations/restrictions. There's already a site: www.ratemyteachers.com that goes all the way down to elementary school in the U.S. I think if you submit a rating, you must also submit your name as you're dealing with a teacher's reputation and livelihood. Perhaps even the teacher can submit rebuttals to any comment/rating too. I can easily see some students that don't get along with or got a bad grade from a teacher and slander them like crazy on a site like this. I can also see some overzealous parents with an agenda using the site for somewhat sinister intentions.
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Old 03-31-08, 06:20 PM
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Originally Posted by yakuza70
I'm a public elementary school teacher and I wouldn't mind it but it would have to have some kind of regulations/restrictions. There's already a site: www.ratemyteachers.com that goes all the way down to elementary school in the U.S. I think if you submit a rating, you must also submit your name as you're dealing with a teacher's reputation and livelihood. Perhaps even the teacher can submit rebuttals to any comment/rating too. I can easily see some students that don't get along with or got a bad grade from a teacher and slander them like crazy on a site like this. I can also see some overzealous parents with an agenda using the site for somewhat sinister intentions.
I have friends who teach college courses, and I've read their ratings on ratemyprofessor.com. It's easy to tell which comments are legitimate (positive and negative) and which ones are just whiners/cranks/malcontents/trolls.

I think teacher rating sites are useful, but like anything, should not be relied on solely.
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Old 03-31-08, 06:26 PM
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What a shocker about ratemycop. I wouldn't mind rating the cop who pulled me over smelling of alcohol.
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