With news of the YBB+ closure making it to the pages of the Washington Post and beyond, and an online petition opposing the shutdown gathering nearly 700 signatures, Dean of Yale College Mary Miller has decided to go public on the issue, drafting an open letter to the Yale community which will soon be posted on the Dean’s Office website.
In the letter, Miller grants that although the developers of YBB+ acted with “good intentions” and that the site’s closure came at a bad time, YBB+’s violated Yale’s acceptable use policy. Moreover, while Miller acknowledges the claims that blocking the site comes at a cost to freedom of speech, she asserts that the right to free speech does not entitle the illegitimate use of University resources.
Miller also suggests that the University objected to the manner in which YBB+ quantified instructor evaluations, decoupling the quantitative parts of a teacher evaluation with their written counterparts. When teacher evaluations were made available to student, administrators and faculty members had reached an understanding that the evaluations would be displayed holistically, Miller writes, adding that YBB+ undercut that agreement.
The full text of the letter is below:
January 17, 2014
To the Yale Community:
This past week, students in Yale College lost access to YBB+ because its developers, although acting with good intentions, used university resources without permission and violated the acceptable use policy that applies to all members of the Yale community. The timing for its users could not have been worse: over 1,000 of them had uploaded worksheets during the course selection period and relied on those worksheets to design their course schedules. And the means for shutting down the site immediately — by blocking it — led to charges that the university was suppressing free speech.
Free speech defines Yale’s community; the people who belong to it understand that they are entitled to share their views just as they must tolerate the views of others, no matter how offensive. The right to free speech, however, does not entitle anyone to appropriate university resources. In the case of YBB+, developers were unaware that they were not only violating the appropriate use policy but also breaching the trust the faculty had put in the college to act as stewards of their teaching evaluations. Those evaluations, whose primary purpose is to inform instructors how to improve their teaching, became available to students only in recent years and with the understanding that the information they made available to students would appear only as it currently appears on Yale’s sites — in its entirety.
Members of the YCDO and the University Registrar met this week with the developers, and to good end: the developers learned more about the underlying problems with using data without permission, the importance of communicating in advance with the university on projects that require approval and cooperation, and some of the existing mechanisms for collaborating with the university, among them the Yale College Council. Administrators, for their part, heard more about the demand for better tools and guidelines for the growing number of student developers, the need for a better approach to students who violate the acceptable use policy — in most cases unwittingly — and the value students place on information contained in teaching evaluations. All parties agreed to work toward a positive outcome, and they remain in conversation with each other to that end.
Dean of Yale College
Sterling Professor of History of Art