As the first day of shopping period opened at Yale College, the 1,418 students who had entered their tentative course schedules on Yale Bluebook+ found the website blocked on University servers.

The application, designed by brothers and co-developers Peter Xu ’14 and Harry Yu ’14, used data from Yale’s course information database to offer students a convenient way to compare class evaluations and ratings, Xu said. Though the program has been available for students’ use for the last three semesters, it was only last Wednesday that the brothers were approached about the website. University Registrar Gabriel Olszewski sent them an email citing concerns that the website was “making YC course evaluation available to many who are not authorized to view this information,” asking how they obtained the information, who gave them permission to use it and where the information is hosted. In subsequent exchanges Olszewski raised concerns over the website’s unauthorized use of the Yale logo and the words “Yale” and “Bluebook,” the prominence of class and professor ratings, the application’s accessibility to non-undergraduates, and the fact that it wasn’t hosted on Yale’s servers. When the brothers met with Olszewski two days after the first email, they said they were told that the website had to be shut down.

Olszewski did not respond to multiple requests for comment Monday.

“This was very sudden,” Xu said. “We thought they’d work with us to resolve the problems. But they were very straightforward and asked us to shut it down, right at the start of shopping period when a lot of students had worksheets on it.”

Rather than taking the website down immediately, Xu and Yu looked to the case of another popular shopping website, Yale BlueBook. That website encountered similar issues when it first came out, but the site’s designers talked with the administration, and Yale eventually purchased the website. Hoping to make a similar compromise, Xu and Yu said they presented several new mockups of the website to the administration. The revised versions changed the website’s color scheme, removed the words “Yale” and “Bluebook,” changed its name to “CourseTable,” and took out the option of sorting classes by ratings. However, the brothers did not hear back from the administration until Monday, when the website was suddenly blocked without notice, Yu said.

The reaction among the student body was primarily confusion, said Stuart Teal ’14, a member of the Student Technology Collaborative.

“I feel like the shutdown was done by the administration very suddenly and immaturely, without any communication or transparency at all,” he said.

In an effort to clarify the situation, Xu posted in several popular campus Facebook groups, explaining that the administration had blocked the website and that he and Yu were working to email students their worksheets as soon as possible.

Quinn Zhang ’14 said he has found the shutdown to be a great inconvenience.

“Most people have their shopping lists planned out on YBB+ and have to shop by memory or email Harry [Yu] or Peter [Xu] for a copy of their schedules,” he said.

Xu and Yu eventually emailed all students who had planned a worksheet on YBB+ a copy of their individual schedules — an effort which required them to buy a subscription to an outside mailing service.

The Yale College Council, which has helped publicize other student technology initiatives in the past, including Yale BlueBook, had been planning on promoting YBB+ before the shutdown occurred, said YCC President Danny Avraham ’15. The YCC is now engaging with the administration in an effort to aid Xu and Yu, he added.

“The response from the student body has been completely supportive,” Xu said, citing dozens of emails he and Yu have received.

Xu and Yu said based on their interactions with the administration they believe that out of all the concerns listed about their site, the most pressing one to the administration is the prominent public display of course ratings. Yale BlueBook, Yu said, has the exact same functionality as their site, except that YBB+ sorts classes by ratings and displays averages much more clearly. He believes that this is the reason the administration was unwilling to compromise with him and Xu the same way it did with Yale BlueBook’s developers.

Though they are both upset about the shutdown, Xu said they understand the administration’s concerns and will comply with all of the administration’s demands. This decision was heavily guided by the administration’s threat of disciplinary action, Yu added.

“We’ve tried so hard to work with them to minimize the impact of this shutdown, and they know we’re open to doing anything to keep the site open to students,” Xu said. “I understand where they’re coming from, but I just think they’re doing it the wrong way. There are better ways to do it.”

In the last week, YBB+ has received 2,983 unique visitors.

  • Soratio_Heymour

    The administration displays poor tact in their response. Not only are they half-assing their justification by resorting to copyright/fair-use, but they’re also threatening the twins with ex-comm over non-compliance. The reality is that they don’t want students to see that Professor Jones has a 2.03 average rating, and that people really should reconsider taking his course. This only hurts the students.

    • l3ctur3r

      Or: It’s not OK to slag off dozens of employees of a company online, when you don’t even know who was responsible for what.

      Why is Professor Jones responsible for his poor rating? He wanted to teach material more appropriate for the students, in a more appropriate order, and using more appropriate activities. But his team and department decided that he couldn’t do that.

      Why are you slagging off Professor Jones? Why not Professor Smith, who decided the syllabus and forced it on the rest of the team? Why not the Dean of the department, who ruled against Professor Jones upon appeal?

      • Guest

        Or: Professor l3ctur3r can’t admit that sometimes he may not be every students’ favorite teacher.

        Don’t you have a class to prepare for? Oh wait–no, you’re department has already got that covered (and any last-minute assignments you can just hand over to those TAs).

        I am disgusted by the behavior of this professor–or maybe it is just a lecturer. Who would want to go back to New Haven knowing people like this educate us?

        • l3ctur3r

          I’m not at Yale. I’m not in the US. I don’t have any TAs.

          Not really sure what the rest of your comments were about.

          • yalengineer

            Not sure how that qualifies you to evaluate our courses. I TA, I don’t have a choice but the Professor does. The Professor is solely responsible for the syllabus and the department often has little influence on it.

  • stiles2015

    It’s funny because all Yu and Xu did was take the arithmetic mean and display it. It’s sad to see the administration react this way, since YBB+ was so much better than the other two alternatives, and we’re in the middle of shopping period.

  • student_tech

    From the STC email thread regarding the administration’s response, given to the tickets filed on YBB+:

    “Why has the administration blocked YBB+?

    – The site was using the Yale name, course selection
    information, and course evaluation information without permission. Also,
    the design of the site focused on a few ratings never intended to be
    used for this purpose. Yale takes advising and course selection
    seriously and has given students digital resources to help them design
    their schedules, such as syllabi, course descriptions, and thoughtful
    narrative responses written by students.”

    It seems that the Xu and Yu have now officially taken down the site, sadly.

  • Guest

    The administration’s refusal to publicly comment makes me feel much less comfortable here as a student. How are we to take seriously an administration which does not justify a decision that disrupts thousands of student’s academic lives? Here’s hoping this turns into our Watergate.

    • yalemarxist

      Perhaps this will be the moment during which the “administration of the proletariat” finally takes its proper place in Woodbridge Hall

    • Michael Becker

      The real question is WHY you take any university administration seriously. They add generally nothing to education except expense.

  • mcguire

    I wish I were surprised anymore by the administration’s thinly-veiled contempt for undergraduates and undergraduate life. Can you believe we pay/paid $50,000 per year to have course reviews intentionally obstructed? (Also, after this incident they might as well put a sign for tour groups next to the Nathan Hale statue that says “LIKE COMPUTERS? GO TO STANFORD”)

    • yalengineer

      You don’t want to know how terrible the Stanford course catalog is. I miss the Bluebook pre BB+.

  • opinionated

    Well, I guess y’all are getting to learn one of the most important lessons Yale will teach you; life’s not fair. Take note. (Not sayin’ that you can’t/shouldn’t fight injustice, though…)

  • David

    There should be a fairly straight forward work around. A coder could build a desktop version that when run will attach to the data sources, pull down the information (under each student’s individual credentials) and calculate ratings+ locally on the desktop. No web site. Nothing to block. Data is refreshed every time you open the application.

    • zzz

      The “pull down their information” there requires the Internet, which means it could also be blocked..

      • David

        I think they will block access to the “value added analysis,” but not the raw data? The raw data used by the coders is available to all students via Yale’s own sanctioned sites, just not very helpful! But a desktop app could go download class information, cache it locally and run the analysis in real-time. Only way Yale gets around this is to turn off their own sites… or make them super hard to scrape, which is unlikely.

  • l3ctur3r

    I’m a college lecturer who is rated by students, with results given on our internal college network, displayed when students pick courses.

    I’m not happy about it at all. I work in a team, and am not allowed to teach what and how I want. The team tells me what to do, the team leader tells me what to do, and the college tells me what to do.

    Why should I be slandered by the college for doing what they told me to do? I know some things I did were shit. I did them because I was told to. I was vocal against doing them, in many instances. How is it my fault?

    I also wouldn’t be happy about being slandered on some website that made it easier to compare lecturers, and was accessible to non-students (such as, potential future employers). I wouldn’t be happy about that at all. In fact, I would begin a lawsuit against the people involved if that happened and I had the time to do so.

    • Grace Herling

      So what you’re telling the undergraduate body at Yale is that our professors are incapable of working in teams? Are you also implying that the curricula designed at Yale by Yale professors to whom we pay our tuition do not hold us students in the highest interest?

      I know you professors are stressed with your $192k average salaries, full-year sabbaticals, and having to look at your TAs’ faces every day, but is being told what to do your best excuse for having an undesirable rating online? In case you haven’t heard, has been out for a while now, and students use it. Get used to it.

      As a freshman here, I am ashamed to think that I may have made the wrong choice. It seems the administration cannot seem to deal with the students, the students cannot seem to deal with the professors, and the professors cannot seem to deal with the students. Maybe I should have just gone to Harvard… I hear the grading system over there is better anyway.

      • l3ctur3r

        I’m not at Yale. I work at a different university, not in the US. I think the university I work at is shit. I think most universities are shit. I would probably think Yale and Harvard were shit, if I knew anything about them. I think university teaching methods and course structure are shit. I have worked to change this as best I can.

        In a team, we are sometimes made to do things we don’t want to do. I don’t know whether that falls under your description of “incapable of working in teams”.

        How about if I upload all my grading spreadsheets, including my personal opinions on the students, their attractiveness, and work ethic, as well as how many and which homeworks they completed, how late they were, how well they did in each test, etc., to the Internet and link to it on Reddit, for potential employers to peruse? Will I be lauded as a visionary of open information?

        • Grace Herling

          If you don’t teach at Yale, then get off our school paper. Our business clearly has no concern to you, and no sane person would be so offended at what has been presented here unless it directly affected you. So either you work at Yale and are lying, or you work outside our country and clearly have nothing better to do in your country. (Compliments to you, though, on having such good American English for someone that does not live in the U.S.)

          Also, if the university you work at is shit, why not quit? It would make you a happier person.

          Just noting, the latter four would be apparent by the final grade in the class. The former two are obvious upon receiving letters of recommendation (or not recommendation, as these exits as well), and setting foot in an interview, respectively.

          I still do find it interesting how you know nothing about Yale nor Harvard, yet you are so engaged as to comment on an article in Yale’s student paper.

          • l3ctur3r

            It was linked to on Reddit.

            I think most universities are shit. I had a better job, at another teaching institution, but I quit and have so far been unable to get that job back.

            I don’t understand why you are turning everything around on me. Next you’ll be saying that rape victims should cover up, or whatever.

          • wyltk

            Are you really that dull? I can see exactly why you get bad ratings because you are a shitty person.

          • l3ctur3r

            Really? I thought my ratings were OK. Which one of my ratings did you think was not OK?

          • yalengineer

            Not sure how ratings of a provider are comparable to ratings of the user. For instance, we can rate restaurants on Yelp. However, that is significantly different than restaurants rating patrons.

        • Michael Becker

          Given your attitude, you should be panned on these sites. Go find a real job and quit your bitching. You’re giving students a fine example in how to be pathetic.

  • Man Da

    In Montreal, students are rating and commenting on their courses, teachers, clubs… and Universities administrations supported this initiative a lot! This website is named UniYu and it is now open in many Campus in the US:

    • Do Dool

      Great website, a very needed platform for universities.

    • elsagrs

      That’s true! I am studying at the University of Bath and
      like many other of my classmates, I am using UniYu very frequently. It’s a
      great initiative supported by the administration of the school!