Government regulations claimed another win against the public last week after the University of California, Berkeley announced plans to cut public access to over 20,000 videos and podcasts.
Two employees from a Washington, D.C School for the Deaf filed a complaint with the Justice Department alleging that the free content offered by Berkeley was inaccessible to the deaf community. After a short investigation, the department determined that the university had in fact violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“In many cases the requirements proposed by the department would require the university to implement extremely expensive measures to continue to make these resources available to the public for free,” wrote Cathy Koshland, vice chancellor for undergraduate education.
“We believe that in a time of substantial budget deficits and shrinking state financial support, our first obligation is to use our limited resources to support our enrolled students. Therefore, we must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access.”
Last week’s disclosure confirms that Berkeley will no longer provide free access to tens of thousands of educational videos. The content is now only available to students lucky enough to enrolled at the university.
The ADA wasn’t intended for such use. The public shouldn’t have to lose an invaluable resource because some members are unable to take advantage of it. In recent years tuition prices spiked while wages remained stagnant. College is too expensive for many Americans.
Free online courses are a godsend to many families. Education should be available to every citizen; money shouldn’t be the litmus test used to determine who goes to college.
“Today, the content is available to the public on YouTube, iTunes U and the university’swebcast.berkeley site. On March 15, the university will begin removing the more than 20,000 audio and video files from those platforms — a process that will take three to five months — and require users sign in with University of California credentials to view or listen to them,” reports Inside Higher Education.
As usual, government regulations have done far more harm than good. Everybody loses with this decision. The ADA wasn’t used to the advantage of disabled Americans; instead it was wielded as a weapon against everyday citizens.
The National Association of the Deaf has so far refused to comment.
The Justice Department’s decision may reverberate far beyond the Berkeley case. The ruling imperils all online education systems. Equality is a sticky subject. It doesn’t always look the same for everyone. Ensuring that the content was ADA compliant might have cost Berkeley millions of dollars.
“I can’t imagine the authors of the ADA intended to destroy a valuable public resource because it wasn’t perfectly accessible to all, but here we are. Taking the quality out ofequality: that’s clumsy federal regulation for you,” writes Reason’s Robby Soave.
Not all of the ruling’s consequences are immediately apparent. Creating barriers to online education disproportionately harms lower-income students.
Liberal zeal for equality at all costs lacks nuance. If the two disgruntled university employees who complained about Berkeley’s free content really cared about improving the lives of the deaf, they would have focused their efforts on getting the videos transcribed rather than deleted.
“This move will also partially address recent findings by the Department of Justice, which suggests that the YouTube and iTunes U content meet higher accessibility standards as a condition of remaining publicly available,” Cathy Koshland said. “Finally, moving our content behind authentication allows us to better protect instructor intellectual property from ‘pirates’ who have reused content for personal profit without consent.”
Perhaps the only beneficiaries of the government’s meddling are the university’s professors. Allowing only students to access recorded lectures obviously reduces the risk that an instructor’s teachings will be re-posted. A professor who teaches live classes will also likely make more money than a professor who favors online lessons.
Ironically Berkeley’s free content was marvelous in part because it could potentially reach so many. Anyone with an internet connection could access lectures given by some of most prestigious professors in the world.
Over regulation isn’t confined to Washington. Europe suffers from many of the same problems. The PC crowd continues to swell in numbers.
“We are concerned that there is a growing unregulated sector of higher education…” states a report composed by Britain’s Higher Education Commission. The authors suggest that schools be forced to pay into an insurance system that would bail out failing institutions.
“More attention has been paid to regulation recently…But UK higher education has not faced scandals or been bailed out by taxpayers…In fact, the existing piecemeal regulation and set of tacit agreements to do the right thing seems to have operated pretty well for hundreds of years,” writes The Guardian.
Washington, D.C is infected with rampant special-snowflake syndrome. The DOJ exists to uphold justice, not to trample on the rights of the majority.