All seems infected that the infected spy,
As all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.
(Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, 1709)
Ask Benjamin Ginsberg what he thinks about universities as a free-flowing marketplace of ideas. Ask him what he thinks about the academy as a primary force in the careful cultivation of young minds. Now, ask him about an administration’s role as responsible bureaucrat. No, seriously, ask him.
Ginsberg, you see, is not a fan of institutional red tape. And now neither are 1,840 Yale University students (roughly 34% of the entire undergraduate student body) forced to use a crumbling online course catalog system despite a markedly better (and available) alternative.
Enter Yale Bluebook and it’s creators, twin brothers Peter Xu and Harry Yu, both senior Computer Science majors at the university. Frustrated with the boring, burdensome method of registering for courses, Xu and Yu sought to improve the years-old system best categorized as a clunky counterpart to the revered—and equally staid—print copy. By adding enhanced functionality and a much-need virtual renovation, the sleek, clean interface afforded students campus-wide a shopping experience akin to the one made popular by online retailer giant Amazon. Of course, that was until it was brought to the attention of the Yale administration—two semesters later.
Long unnoticed by the administration, the brothers’ Bluebook crafted quite a following. However, more important than understanding the existence of an obvious need among students, was the university’s own self-interest and personal pride.
“They felt that they knew best about how students should use data,
about how students should choose their courses, and basically
wanted to enforce that on students. And we thought that students
should actually have control of their own education.”
–Peter Xu (Yale Bluebook co-founder)
Why not leverage some of the brightest student minds in the country? In this digital age, where consumers of information are now producers of the same, it has become strikingly clear the responsibility students want in shaping their education. They want ownership of a specialized, not generalized, career track where the curriculum is individually tailored to suit their goals and not mass produced. This initiative was a demonstration of two students motivated by entrepreneurial application instead of academic theory, and by proven return instead of professoriate say-so. The end result was the creation of a system that students not only prefered to use but on which they ultimately relied despite any institutional assistance.