Brigham Young University administrators on Friday lifted a long-standing block on a popular video-sharing Web site after deciding that YouTube's rich educational content justified making it available on the campus, owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Almost since YouTube's inception in 2005, the university's Internet network blocked the site, even as it morphed from a quirky cache of video clips to the self-regulated media force it is today.
The YouTube policy was broadly unpopular among BYU students, although many appreciated the rationale behind it. News of the ban's lifting hadn't filtered down to students as of Friday afternoon.
"This is weird," said Katherine Gee, a senior majoring in English and theater, after logging into YouTube on her laptop in the campus food court. "I'm used to seeing it say it's not allowed."
While she admitted that YouTube can be a distraction from homework, Gee said it offers a lot of good things as well and said she was excited that BYU had lifted the ban. She had found the ban somewhat ironic since students could still access social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.
Dave Kelly, a senior majoring in Chinese, said he used Google Video, which was not blocked, to watch an occasional video on campus. There are benefits to allowing students access to YouTube, not all of them educational, he said. "If you want to take a break from your work, you can."
From President Barack Obama's speeches to the church's own "Mormon Messages" devotional clips to "Bizkit the Sleep Walking Dog," the site has become an indispensable repository for video content, uploaded by millions of Web users. Despite the site's rules against pornographic and violent clips and depictions of illegal acts, some of its content, such as "Boobs: Real vs. Fake," may run afoul of Mormon sensibilities.
BYU's Honor Code requires students and faculty to avoid Internet content that is not "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy," material that certainly can be found on YouTube. Yet the site is increasingly a vehicle for quality cultural, religious, scholarly and political material.
Want to see opera star Angela Gheorghiu sing an aria from Puccini's "Tosca"? How about Kenneth Branagh performing the "To be or not to be" soliloquy from "Hamlet," or more likely, the late Michael Jackson's 1983 "Thriller" video or his sister's notorious "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl? Go to YouTube.
Now the nation's most prestigious universities, not to mention the LDS Church itself and Pope Benedict XVI, have launched YouTube channels to brand and promote themselves and their missions. Berkeley, for example, posts entire lectures by distinguished faculty. Does BYU envision following this lead?
"We wouldn't rule it out, but I'm not aware of any plans at this time," said BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.
In the meantime, the school has launched a new Web site, besafe.byu.edu, to show students how to avoid scams, phishing expeditions, identity thieves and smut while using the Internet.