During his four years as an undergrad at UT-Dallas, Ross Ulbricht earned a handful of mentions on the school's website. His name appeared on a list of students at the NanoTech Institute, on a 2004 press release about students competing in an academic tournament, on a handful of research papers he co-authored while working in professor John Ferraris' physics lab.
Since last week, when federal authorities arrested the 29-year old for allegedly masterminding the online drug bazaar Silk Road, that's all disappeared. Google can still find traces of him on UTD's website, but the links are either dead or they lead to pages, like the list of NanoTech students, from which Ulbricht's name has been purged.
The UTD Mercury -- where, full disclosure, I worked as managing editor in 2009 -- sniffed out the administration's case of willful amnesia and penned an editorial lambasting the university's "scorched-earth approach to public relations" as "irresponsible and reactionary."
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In an email, UTD spokesman John Walls defended the deletions.
"The nature of the allegations at hand is severe," he wrote. "The University will not present any content that would imply or lead to an inference that the University supports unlawful behavior."
That argument's pretty thin. No reasonable person would look at the by-all-accounts innocuous references to Ulbricht on UTD's website, all made five to seven years before he is accused of criminal activity, and deduce that the university endorses the sale of illegal drugs through a libertarian global online marketplace. Nor will the school's deletions prevent anyone from discovering Ulbricht's time at UTD, which has been widely reported by now.
It's a pointless exercise, in other words, not so sinister as the Mercury implies, but puzzling nonetheless.