“I hope I don’t get kicked out of Yale for this”

A student responds to the university’s somewhat clumsy blocking of a student website:

Later that weekend, Yale’s administration told the student developers that the school didn’t approve of the use of its course evaluation data, saying that their website “let students see the averaged evaluations far too easily”. Harry and Peter were told to remove the feature from the CourseTable website or else they would be referred to the school’s punishment committee.

What if someone made a piece of software that displays Yale’s course evaluation data in a way that Yale disapproves of, while also (1) not infringing on Yale’s copyrights or trademarks, (2) not storing any sensitive data, (3) not scraping or collecting Yale’s data, and (4) not causing damages to Yale’s network or servers? If Yale censors this piece of software or punishes the software developer, it would clearly characterize Yale as an institution where having authority over students trumps freedom of speech.

Guess what? I made it last night.

Bravo.

Yale’s students weren’t so different from others I’ve taught at Berkeley, Harvard or Columbia, but one thing did stand out: they never saw any limits to what they could do.

Interested in international journalism? Maybe I’ll go to Zimbabwe over spring break, corner the central bank governor in a hotel lobby, and get a scoop I can sell to a newspaper.

The biggest difference between me as a 21-year old and them is that it would never even have occurred to me that this was possible.

While you might say that this attitude is a product of privilege, Yale was reasonably good at not recruiting just the high SAT, high socio-economic status kids. There was something else on top. A reminder to us that more is possible than we imagine.

At the same time, most of them went to work in finance or consulting, which (whatever you think of those careers) might not be humanity’s best use of so many fine minds. So there is some tragedy.