Yale Concedes Error in Banning Student Course-Evaluation Website

Yale University said it was wrong to block an online course guide built by students that competed with the college’s own website.

CourseTable, created by students Harry Yu and Peter Xu, was banned by Yale on Jan. 13 for violating the institution’s data policies, according to Yale Daily News, a student newspaper. The action led to accusations by students and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an advocacy group, that the reaction impinged on Yu and Xu’s freedom of expression.

Mary Miller, dean of students, said the university objected to the way student feedback about the courses was presented as a numerical score without the context of their comments. That violated the school’s policy about modifying data without permission and encouraged students to select courses with incomplete information, Miller said in a Jan. 20 letter to students and staff.

“Although the University acted in keeping with its policies and principles, I see now that it erred in trying to compel students to have as a reference the superior set of data that the complete course evaluations provide,” Miller said. “Students can and will decide for themselves how much effort to invest in selecting their courses.”

After CourseTable was blocked, another student created a similar website called Banned Bluebook that duplicated its functions without violating Yale policy, effectively resolving the issue, Miller said. The questions raised have prompted Yale to re-evaluate its policies regarding the use of university data, she said.

“Technology has moved faster than the faculty could foresee when it voted to make teaching evaluations available to students over a decade ago, and questions of who owns data are evolving before our very eyes,” Miller said.

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