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Apologize for creating a hostile environment against student innovation

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Over the past week, the Yale College administration forced two student-created course selection websites, CourseTable and Classroulette, to shut down. Both sites were blocked using Yale’s network firewall, and the developers of both sites were threatened with disciplinary action if they did not take down the sites immediately.

Yale claims that the sites violated its policy regarding “appropriate use” of data (http://policy.yale.edu/policy/1607-information-technology-appropriate-use-policy). It is unclear whether this is true, because the policy is vague, and neither site modified information on Yale IT systems. It is also unclear whether Yale has the legal right to control data usage in the ways it claims.

But whether or not the sites did violate policies, what is certain is that the hostile way in which the administration handled the cases was wrong. The administration should have opened a dialog with students first--before unilaterally forcing immediate shutdowns in the middle of course selection week with threats of disciplinary action. And it should not have misused the network firewall to block access to the sites, creating a dangerous precedent of content-based censorship.

Furthermore, the administration’s public response to the CourseTable incident is a non-apology which places all the blame on the students involved, and makes weak commitments like “[hearing] more about the demand for better tools and guidelines.” (http://yaledailynews.com/crosscampus/2014/01/17/miller-pens-open-letter-on-ybb/)

We must let the Yale administration know that these tactics are not okay. The university has broken students' trust by acting in a hostile way towards students who were providing a beneficial service to fellow students free of charge. It has also damaged its public image, especially in the eyes of prospective STEM major students, who are comparing Yale with institutions like Stanford and MIT that have far more progressive attitudes towards course data access.

Whether or not the university's tactics have been legally justifiable, we expect a higher standard of behavior from a school that is truly committed to helping its students freely innovate. The administration should apologize for its actions, and strongly commit to taking concrete steps to support student data access and innovation.



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