In light of the investigation into allegations that YaleStation Degrees plagiarized Wesleyan University’s similar WesMatch Web site, Yale’s Office of General Counsel advised Yale College Council officers not to comment on the matter. But some YCC members are now calling for a very specific comment on the matter — a public apology.
The prospect of an apology for the YaleStation Degrees debacle has emerged as an important issue for the council, particularly in light of questions raised during Wednesday’s meeting. The General Counsel’s office is conducting a joint investigation into the matter with the YCC.
At a meeting last week, a majority of over 10 YCC representatives and students who spoke during an open floor section of a council meeting called for an apology.
YCC President Elliott Mogul ’05 said Sunday that though the council agrees there should be further response to the allegations, he does not think an apology would be appropriate now.
“It’s not quite time for an apology because of the way things stand with the WesMatch people,” he said.
Sixteen questions on a personality survey on the YaleStation Web site were identical to those posted on a similar dating survey on WesMatch, or only slightly changed to accommodate Yale-related names. An additional 10 YaleStation questionnaire categories were identical or nearly identical to those found on WesMatch. The survey was removed following a complaint and a cease-and-desist request from an attorney representing the Wesleyan service.
Representative Steven Syverud ’06 said he thinks the investigation is taking the wrong focus.
“Even if we find that no one on the YCC was directly involved, even if there were no ‘legal rules’ broken, there needs to be an apology,” Syverud said. “I think we’re too caught up in the details of what we technically did wrong, and so we’re missing the bigger picture — The next step is to find out who’s responsible and see that they’re punished accordingly.”
But some members of the YCC believe the outgoing officers should apologize to the rest of the council and the student body regardless of who specifically is responsible.
“They should apologize for tarnishing the reputation of the council with behavior which, if not illegal, was certainly unethical,” representative Alan Kennedy-Shaffer ’06 said. “I’m not sure all the representatives feel this is something that should be addressed right now, since we don’t know all the facts.”
Those who were less convinced of wrongdoing also said the investigation should continue. Representative Andrew Schram ’06 said he thinks the incident is unfortunate, but it may eventually be seen as “a minor mistake” and does not technically constitute copyright infringement.
“The problem lies in a few of the questions that might possibly be construed as plagiarized,” Schram, next year’s YCC treasurer, said.
While many YCC representatives have been implicitly associated with the WesMatch controversy, many are removed from the issue, representative Christopher Wells ’06 said. They are eager to respond to their constituents and would also like their own names cleared, he said.
“The thing that distresses me the most is that the YCC and YSAC are held directly responsible for whatever happens,” Wells said. “While there’s been dialogue going on, Elliott’s in charge of the meetings, and he can only talk about things to a point.”
YCC and YSAC representatives are seeking greater communication with YaleStation and the technical arm of the YCC, Wells said.
“There are a limited number of people with the technical expertise to take those last steps [to put questions for the survey online],” he said. “But, of course, our names are still attached to the final product.”
Schram said concerns regarding the YCC’s administration of YaleStation are being addressed with the addition of a YaleStation administrator to the YCC executive board.
YaleStation Chair Chaitanya Mehra ’06 said he would like to “clear the air” with the Yale community and thinks a YCC apology would help. He said he did not write code or questions in the Degrees system, and that YaleStation founder Alexander Clark ’04 programmed the system.
Clark, who said he programmed only the “functional aspects” of the system and declined to comment on who wrote the questions, said he is unsure whether an apology is warranted because the investigation, which he hopes concludes quickly, is underway. He said he and others involved have been “cooperative and forthright” with the General Counsel.
Some members of the council said in light of the way the issue was handled, an apology should be issue to the Yale community regardless of the investigation’s report.
“If there was any wrongdoing, and even if there wasn’t, it’s something that needs to be addressed,” YCC Vice President Nirupam Sinha ’05 said. “Whoever’s responsible needs to apologize to Yale and to the YCC.”
— Staff reporter Chris Fortson contributed to this report.