The University of Texas at Dallas is attempting to shove Ross Ulbricht down the memory hole. Official university pages that reference the accused alumnus have been edited to remove all mention of him, or have been deleted altogether. While we on The Mercury editorial board understand that this action is by no means illegal and indeed is the administration’s prerogative, we still find this scrubbing highly dubious.
By altering or denying access to primary documents that live on the web, the university only harms its reputation and injures related parties in the crossfire. By expunging the accused from UTD sites, the university obfuscates the truth and impedes accuracy. By removing Ulbricht from the digital record, the university seems to be bent on destroying any trace of his time here. All this, before the man has even had a trial.
When asked for comment, the Office of Communications said in a statement to The Mercury that “The nature of the allegations at hand is severe. The University will not present any content that would imply or lead to an inference that the University supports unlawful behavior.
Admitting that Ulbricht represented UTD at a 2005 conference held by Houston’s Rice University is not an endorsement. Listing Ulbricht as a former fellow of the NanoTech Institute does not confirm nor deny the government’s strong allegations against him. Deleting pictures of him in front of his research poster will not change the fact that he once tread upon these hallowed grounds.
Indeed, the university will only go so far as to say that he is graduated from this institution and nothing more. This, of course, is their right. They are under no obligation to say anything further. But to delete from the living digital record of his life before any judgement is rendered only casts more scrutiny upon the university. We have no reason to believe that the university is complicit in this case, far from it in fact, considering how long ago he attended here. Why then does UTD insist upon acting like a guilty party?
Ulbricht’s work in physics and nanotechnology at the undergraduate level here at UTD seem to have little to do with the allegations levied against him. He did not study computer science, network engineering or supply chain management during his time here. He did not even study anything related to the crimes he is accused of at the graduate level either. His master’s thesis at Penn State University is titled “Growth of EuO Thin Films by Molecular-Beam Epitaxy” and is incidentally still available for public consumption on the Penn State servers.
Moreover, the systematic and thorough purging of Ulbricht’s UTD presence has unwittingly affected those the government has not filed a criminal complaint against. This all-or-nothing approach has seen Ulbricht disappear along with his peers from the university’s servers. His classmates and their accomplishments have been denied entirely through the deletion of whole pages in some cases, thousands of words gone because of a single reference to the renounced name. This wholesale obliteration is irresponsible and reactionary, and harms the reputation of innocent bystanders to this drama.
These allegations of wrongdoing on Ulbricht’s part may be severe, but likewise for this university’s response. This scorched-earth approach to public relations will do nothing to change the fact that multiple press accounts have already linked Ulbricht, an otherwise unknown person, to both UTD and Penn State. Search engines will merely point to Forbes, NPR or Washington Post pieces containing these facts instead of UTD’s own pages. It is the opinion of The Mercury editorial board that the truth is more important than search engine optimization.