Online Forum Connects Students

Website offers textbooks, professor ratings and event announcements

A new website offering the chance to rate professors, exchange textbooks, and post events was launched Monday at Harvard and three other college campuses.

Creator and webmaster Avishai Shraga also debuted the site at Stanford, New York University and the University of California at San Diego.

Shraga, who graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) last year, said thecampusbook.com is based on a website he created during his undergraduate years at UCLA. That site, uclaprofessors.com, polarized the UCLA campus and received opposition from the school’s administration, he said.

“Some faculty members wanted to take it down, some said it was free speech,” Shraga said.

Nonetheless, Shraga said uclaprofessors.com “turned out to be very popular” among the student body, inspiring him to spread the idea at other colleges. One UCLA student who has used the site, Daniel Eliav, said he liked it because it was “user friendly.”

Shraga said that an experience he had as an undergraduate attempting to choose between five professors for an introductory calculus class inspired him to create the online professor rating system. Shraga said he wished he had known which of the five professors offering the class was favored by students so he could have made an informed decision.

“I got stuck with a bad professor and a bad grade,” he said. “ I don’t think that knowledge of who’s good and who’s bad should be kept secret.”

While the professor ratings are the centerpiece of the site, students can also use thecampusbook.com to arrange to buy and sell used textbooks. Though the site does not facilitate online payment, it allows students to post the titles of textbooks they wish to sell or to search for posts about books they wish to purchase.

Once a buyer and seller find each other, they can use thecampusbook.com to arrange an outside means of carrying out the actual sale. Shraga said this service can save students “literally hundreds of dollars.”

A third feature offered by the new site is a “campus calendar,” on which students or student groups can post upcoming events.

Shraga said thecampusbook.com is inspired by thefacebook.com’s model of launching the same site across different campuses. But he said the two will not compete because his site does not offer any social networking services. In fact, he said, most of the features on his site, such as the professor rating system, are anonymous.

The new site requires all new Harvard users to have a Faculty of Arts and Sciences e-mail address—a difference from other professor rating sites, such as ratemyprofessors.com, on which “I could log on myself and rate any [Harvard] professor I wanted, and I’ve never even been to Massachusetts,” Shraga said.

Thecampusbook.com also includes a list of professors at each university, rather than relying on students to add professors themselves.

Shraga said he was aware that Harvard has an institutional rating system for classes that could potentially compete with his site. But Andrea D. Leahy, editor-in-chief of the 2004-2005 CUE guide, said the two can coexist.

“I think that [website] would be another helpful tool, but I think that the CUE guide is also helpful because it is basically sent to all courses whose professors want it rated, and so you would probably would have a better representation in the CUE guide,” she said.

Shraga said he thinks his site provides a useful service and he hopes it will catch on.

“Basically, I think students want to know who their professors are before choosing their classes,” he said.

—Staff writer Matthew S. Lebowitz can be reached at mslebow@fas.harvard.edu.