Miramonte Alumnus Defies Yale Administration; Makes Headlines


Cynthia Hua

Haufler’s conflict with the Yale administration was covered by several major news organizations, and he continues advocating freedom of expression on the internet.

Cole Sitar, Staff Writer

Sean Haufler, a senior at Yale and a Miramonte alumnus from the class of 2010, made headlines in January by defying the Yale administration with an unblockable version of a webpage that Yale had previously banned.

Yale students Harry Yu and Peter Xu sowed the seeds of the recent controversy in 2010. In an attempt to improve Yale BlueBook, Yale’s official course selection site, Yu and Xu created an alternate course selection site called Yale BB+. This added several features to the original BB, including a streamlined interface and more importantly, easily accessible course ratings.

BB+ caught on quickly, but eventually drew negative attention from the Yale administration. On Jan. 10, Yale blocked the site on Yale networks on the grounds of copyright violation. This was, according to Haufler, “somewhat valid” because Yale holds copyrights on its course descriptions and ratings.

Despite acknowledging the legality of Yale’s actions, Haufler felt that Yale had violated Yu and Xu’s freedom of speech. In response to the banning of BB+, Haufler created a Google Chrome extension that works around any copyright violations while still delivering the enhanced features of BB+.

The Chrome extension is called Banned BB, and, according to Haufler, it completely avoids anything that could potentially be used by Yale to take it down: “Trademarks, copyright infringement, and data security are non-issues. It’s 100 percent kosher,” Haufler said.

Haufler announced Banned BB with a lengthy description of the extension and its features on his personal web page. Within hours, a link to Haufler’s blog was the top link on reddit.com, and news sources such as The New York Times and The Washington Post soon wrote articles about Haufler and the controversy surrounding Banned BB and its previously alternative BB sites.

Amidst the media attention, Haufler said that Yale students were firmly on his side: “For the students, this was a one-sided issue,” Haufler said. “I don’t know of anyone who supported the school’s actions when Yale censored a student-made website.”

Haufler began his Banned BB announcement by writing: “I hope I don’t get kicked out of Yale for this,” and he spent several tense days waiting for a response from the Yale administration. On Jan. 20 he finally got a reply. Mary Miller, the dean of Yale, wrote an open letter saying not only that Banned BB would be allowed, but that Yale would be reviewing its policies on copyrighted data.

Since the BB debacle, Haufler and the Yale administration have been getting along much better. “We’re now working together to clarify Yale’s IT policies,” Haufler said. “I helped the student government write a set of recommendations for Yale to ensure this doesn’t happen again. And [on Feb. 26], the President of Yale University announced a task force to address concerns about it’s technology policies.”

Haufler went to Miramonte before classes like Computer Program were introduced, so he had to organize his own coding education. “During my senior year, I took Stanford’s Introductory Computer Science class (CS106A) by self-studying and watching the online lectures,” Haufler said. “It was a great way to learn new material at my own pace. I highly recommend trying it out.”

As a successful Miramonte graduate, Haufler has a great deal of advice for current Miramonte students who want to take a similar path into the world of technology. “The Internet has all the resources you need to learn how to code. And you can start learning now,” Haufler said. “If you want a gentle introduction to programming, you should try Codecademy.com. If you want to dig a little deeper, try taking an OpenCourseWare class online – Harvard and Stanford both have great introductory courses available for anyone to take.”