YCC recommends open data

In response to the administration’s recent blocking of course browsing sites like Yale Bluebook Plus and Class Roulette, the Yale College Council recommended Monday that the administration loosen restrictions governing University data and increase transparency concerning Yale’s data policies.

The recommendation for open data regulations was featured in one of three separate reports the YCC released Monday. In addition to arguing for clarified open data regulations, the YCC recommended that Yale College implement academic minors based on the results of a fall 2013 YCC academics survey and also suggested extending the deadline for term papers. Students interviewed were largely enthusiastic about the open data recommendations, which they said had a higher chance of making headway with the administration than either academic minors or postponed paper deadlines.

While the report commended developers Peter Xu ’14 and Harry Yu ’14 for aspiring to innovate and improve the shopping experience, it added that both the developers and administrators made mistakes — the former in violating data protection regulations established by the University, and the latter in unnecessarily shutting down the site.

“While the concerns raised by the administration were justified, we fault administrators for neglecting to communicate with YCC or other students to better understand the impact of their actions before the sudden shutdown,” the report said.

The report suggests that the administration revise its Information Technology Appropriate Use Policy to encourage open data while protecting the University’s copyrights and preventing students from negatively affecting the University. In the event that students violate these regulations, the report advised that planned procedures be followed. In addition, the report recommends the administration refrain from blocking any nonmalware sites.

YCC President Danny Avraham ’15 said much of the tension between administrators and students stemmed from a lack of transparency and from divergent perspectives on the issue. Thus, he said, the YCC report also recommends that the University better communicate with developers by appointing an administrative liaison to students, creating a website listing relevant guidelines and outlining which data sets are and are not restricted or prohibited.

“While protecting important University interests, these [revised regulations and new resources] will allow students, to a certain extent, to use the data in a productive way,” Avraham said.

Many students interviewed felt positively about the YCC taking action on open data policy transparency, citing the role of the YCC as a primary liaison between students and the administration.

Minsun Cha ’17 said when Yale Bluebook Plus stopped working on her browser earlier this semester, she did not know why the application had stopped functioning and did not hear until much later that the University had blocked the application because it had violated data regulations.

“It’s necessary for [the YCC] to get involved because we need that communication,” she said.

Though all students interviewed agreed with the YCC’s decision to propose recommendations, students remained divided on whether the University would take any action. Of the 20 students who were interviewed, eight said they thought the YCC’s open data proposal would have an impact, while 10 students disagreed and two were unsure.

Because the Yale Bluebook Plus incident garnered national media attention, some students said they expect the administration will be more receptive to student opinions regarding data. Yet the perceived ineffectiveness of some prior YCC recommendations led others to be more skeptical, and many said that unless students make a real push for an administrative response, the recommendations are unlikely to have a tangible impact.

Another report released by the YCC in the same email recommended that Yale College establish either academic minors or secondary concentrations. In a fall 2013 academics survey conducted by the YCC, 89 percent of the 1,459 respondents said that they “definitely” or “probably” would have pursued a minor if Yale had offered them.

The report also compared Yale to peer institutions, finding that all except Brown University offer minors or secondary concentrations of some sort. Avraham said many of these universities only recently implemented minor programs, meaning that Yale could most certainly do so in the near future.

“We really see minors as a way to help students structure whatever academic pursuits they have,” Avraham said, adding that Yale is behind its peers in offering its students this opportunity.

Though academic minors have been proposed before — most recently, in an unsuccessful 2010 attempt by the YCC — Avraham said that this year’s proposal is more likely to be successful, primarily because the YCC has taken extra steps to understand students’ attitudes toward minors. This year’s report, he said, focuses almost exclusively on student opinions, leaving out arguments that were used in the past, such as the potential for minors to increase enrollment in small departments.

YCC Academics Chair David Lawrence ’15, who supervised the project, said this year’s report is different because of the extensive research that went into it. If minors were to be considered or implemented, he said, the authors could project to Directors of Undergraduate Studies how many students would minor in their respective fields based on survey data.

Still, in December, Yale College Dean Mary Miller told the News that she was skeptical of the proposed YCC initiative and believed that minors would become just another credential for ambitious students to acquire.

The last YCC report released Monday proposed that the administration mandate that all term papers be due on the final day of exam period as opposed to during reading period. Avraham said that the current rule, which states that all final paper are due on the last day of reading period, harms students who have more papers than exams, especially in light of the shortened reading period. Because many professors do not follow this rule and allow students to turn in paper during or after exam period, Avraham said that students in classes with stricter professors are disadvantaged.

Although 58 percent of students surveyed by the YCC this fall responded that they preferred a later paper deadline, fewer than 13 percent wanted to have papers due during exam period. Lawrence said this is why the YCC is specifically looking to move the deadline to the end of exam period — so that final papers can be treated as equal to exams. No recommendation was made to move it into the middle of exam period.

The open data, minors and term paper deadlines projects were managed by Andrew Grass ’16, Grant Bronsdon ’16 and Vicky Chou ’16, respectively.

Miller did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that David Lawrence ’15 said that report authors could project how many students would minor in each field based on current class enrollment numbers. In fact, Lawrence said that their predictions are based on survey data. The article also mistakenly listed the class year of Peter Xu and Harry Yu.

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