Rob Rankin created a website to help fellow University of Miami students find spots in the classes they need. UM let its advisers link to the site and the IT department offered to hire Rankin for other projects.
Young hacker Chris Putnam made profiles on Facebook look like the old and really uncool MySpace profiles. Facebook hired him.
But when Tim Arnold came up with a great idea — sending text messages to University of Central Florida students when space in hard-to-get classes opened up — UCF brought him up on disciplinary charges.
Now he's on probation and has to write two papers as part of his punishment.
So much for fostering a campus environment of innovation and entrepreneurship — two of UCF's buzz words.
And this can't be what President John Hitt is referring to when he often talks about UCF being the nation's leading partnership university, can it?
Shouldn't it go without saying that the institution's top partners be the students it serves?
Arnold seems like a pretty good partner.
The baby-faced 22-year-old marketing senior could be a poster kid for UCF. He has a good GPA. He's a frat boy. He volunteered as a leader during freshman orientation. He works as a webmaster for the university's Office of First-Year Experience. And he's the treasurer of the marketing society — though he had to step down because of his probation.
Hardly the picture of a desperado.
But UCF seems to think so.
A spokesman says Arnold's system was accessing UCF servers as many as 30,000 times in a day — a number Arnold disputes — and put the system at risk for other students.
Let's just say, for a moment, that UCF is right. Almost all websites have bugs at the outset.
Why not work with Arnold to smooth out the kinks and keep a system that would be useful to students?
UCF spokesman Grant Heston says the university isn't against innovation, it just had a problem with the way Arnold's program was executed.
Officials blocked his site, UCouldFinish.com (a play on the U Can't Finish dig on UCF) and sent him a disciplinary letter.
Arnold concedes he violated policy by creating a for-profit service that used university resources without written permission. (He made all of $7.98, which he refunded after his site was shut down.)
"It wasn't malicious," he says. "I didn't know about the rule."
You could argue he should have known. That's why he's willing to write the papers. He already completed the coaching class on decision-making he was ordered to attend. He just wanted the university to drop his probation, but after his appeal UCF only reduced his probation by one semester.
And, he's willing to put any hard feelings aside.
"I still would collaborate with them if they wanted that," Arnold said.
Doesn't look like it.
UCF sent out a press release Friday afternoon announcing its own version of the service Arnold created will be ready for the spring semester.
The university conceded Arnold's "outside" site "accelerated" the development of its version, and even appears to give a nod to the idea of working with Arnold.
"As we implement our enhanced registration process — one that is free and compatible with our systems — we invite the developer of the outside website, and others, to help us make UCF more efficient," the release said.
How nice, except Arnold says he hasn't heard a word from university officials since his disciplinary hearing last month.
If UCF really cared about nurturing innovation and collaboration among its students, it seems like it would pay those ideas more than just lip service in a press release.
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