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Yale Unlearns Free Expression

The Yale Daily News reports that Yale University is blocking a popular course evaluation site called CourseTable (originally called Bluebook+) put together by undergraduate brothers Peter Xu and Harry Yu. This is the second time Yale has tried to stifle a student website rating Yale’s courses and professors. The first time it simply bought the site, Yale Bluebook. (Yale’s course catalog is commonly referred to as the Bluebook.) This time, Registrar Gabriel Olszewski demanded that the site be taken down because it was “making YC course evaluation available to many who are not authorized to view this information,” and the site used the word “Yale,” the school’s logo, and the term “Bluebook” without authorization. When Xu and Yu did not cave to the university’s demands, Yale opted to block the site on its networks instead. The authors have now posted The Great Firewall of Yale, an online petition that urges Yale to respect free expression and allow access to CourseTable.

Peter Xu also took to the pages of the Yale Daily News to explain that he and his brother had bent over backwards in order to address the concerns of the Yale administration, including making nearly every change to CourseTable that the administration suggested. But Yale’s response made it clear that the concerns they voiced were mere pretext; Yale simply did not want that content available regardless of how it was presented:

In return for our transparency, Yale was silent and opaque. They said little, while trying to censor and disappear the application from Yale’s networks without revealing it to the public — because this act of censorship would hurt Yale’s image more than Bluebook+ could. This started on Friday, when Yale began blocking the IP address of the particular server to make it look like it was merely our servers that were down.

In 1974, C. Vann Woodward, one of the premier historians of U.S. history, led a committee that wrote Yale’s Declaration of Free Expression, which can still be found on Yale’s website. It states on page 7 (emphasis added):

Above all, every member of the university has an obligation to permit free expression in the university. No member has a right to prevent such expression. Every official of the university, moreover, has a special obligation to foster free expression and to ensure that is is not obstructed. 

Thirty years later, Woodward’s legacy is this:

The rest is silence.

Image: Yale University

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