Yale University Censors Popular Course Evaluation Site

Yale Bluebook+, a student-created mock course scheduling tool with consolidated course evaluations and ratings, was blocked on the internal university Internet on Monday by the administration, citing non-permissible use of Yale’s data and name. The block came less than a week after Gabriel Olszewski, the university registrar, raised the university’s concerns with the site in an email to the site’s founders, computer science majors Peter Xu and Harry Yu. Aside from its course scheduling function, YBB+ featured consolidated course evaluation data presented in a color-coded system. Users could also sort classes and professors according to the scores given by prior students.

“There was a design component used to present data in a way that was never intended, as voted by the faculty” Olszewski, who declined to specify the exact feature, said in a phone interview.

Yale grants access to course evaluation data only for current students of Yale College. In the email sent last Tuesday, Olszewski pointed out that YBB+ provided access also to other Yale students login credentials and that the site “averaged evaluations,” according to an opt-ed written by Peter Xu in today’s Yale Daily News.

“Blocking sites that Yale disapproves of reminds us more of China’s Great Firewall than one of the world’s leading research institutions,” Xu, who was not immediately available for a comment, wrote

YBB+ was created as a follow-up to Yale Bluebook, a course scheduling site created by then-students Jared Shenson and Charlie Croom that launched in the spring of 2011. Containing course descriptions, course evaluations and a function allowing users to map out potential schedules, the site quickly emerged as a nimble and more user-friendly alternative to Yale’s own online course registration platform.

The founders were then posed with similar problems as YBB+’s Xu and Yu: it consolidated and used copyrighted Yale data on servers outside the university. But in the summer of 2012, Yale chose to acquire the right to run the site and incorporated it under its .edu domain.

In response to the university’s concerns, Xu and Yu last week changed the site’s domain to CourseTable and offered to remove the numerical scores and ranking function, Xu wrote in the opt-ed. But that did not please the university administration which blocked the site on Monday, displaying a message saying that the site had been “blocked in accordance with Yale policy” to anyone trying to enter.

“[Yale] has let down its students, who pay $58,600 a year to attend, by preventing them from making the most of their credits,” Xu wrote.