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That Bluebook controversy, explained and linked

If you're like us, you might have been puzzling a bit over the recent kerfuffle in which Yale banned a student-run course selection website.

Harry Yu and Peter Xu, both Yale seniors, created a site called Yale Bluebook+. Drawing data from Yale College's official Bluebook course catalogue and student course evaluations, they added crucial changes in how the information was displayed—making it easier for students to use, they say, but apparently uncomfortable for some faculty and administrators.

In particular, the university objected to the way YBB+ (later renamed CourseTable) displayed numerical averages for course evaluations right next to the course title. Presenting the numbers without including student comments was "misleading and incomplete," Yale College dean Mary Miller ’81PhD wrote in an open letter on the subject.

So the university blocked the site on its servers, then ordered Yu and Xu to take it down. The founders complied, despite their contention that it is an "immensely useful tool" that was being used by 2,000 undergraduates when Yale blocked it.

Outraged, another student—Sean Haufler ’14—wrote a Google Chrome extension for the official site that performs much the same function as YBB+, but without extracting Yale's copyrighted data. He calls it "100% kosher." He also calls it Banned Bluebook.

In her open letter, Miller acknowledges that the controversy raises important questions about who owns data, its appropriate use, and how much Yale can (or should) try to control students' decisionmaking processes. She also says that Yale "could have been more patient" in moving against the website, although she rejects the move as censorship or a free-speech violation.

A Washington Post technology blog has a clear, evenhanded summary of the situation so far. How it will be resolved remains to be seen.

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