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Minnesota to World: Don’t Teach Us Anything!

Echoes of the Scopes Monkey Trial in the North Star State? Minnesota’s bureaucrats are trying to make teaching illegal in the state—online teaching, anyway.

Via the Chronicle of Higher Education, we see that the Stanford-based Coursera is putting a special warning in its terms of service for Minnesota residents:

Coursera has been informed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education that under Minnesota Statutes (136A.61 to 136A.71), a university cannot offer online courses to Minnesota residents unless the university has received authorization from the State of Minnesota to do so. If you are a resident of Minnesota, you agree that either (1) you will not take courses on Coursera, or (2) for each class that you take, the majority of work you do for the class will be done from outside the State of Minnesota.

The Chronicle reports that the law has been on the books for 20 years and is meant as a consumer protection measure that requires any courses offered within the state of Minnesota to be first vetted by its government.

We’ve seen no explanation thus far for how a free educational venture engages consumer protection interests, but perhaps one will be forthcoming. It’s also not clear at the moment who is behind the effort to apply this law to Coursera (and whether it’s also being applied to competitors such as EdX and Udacity). Is it some overeager bureaucrat trying to make his or her mark? Or are Minnesota’s existing universities worried about free competition stirring the pot?

Regardless, as Coursera’s cheekily ineffectual note suggests, and given the very nature of the Internet, this law is completely unenforceable. The only way Minnesota could do anything concrete would be to erect something akin to China’s Great Firewall to block its residents from accessing the service. And that’s (probably!) not going to happen.

We hope Minnesota’s paper-pushers come to their senses and lift this ridiculous restriction. Minnesota’s citizens deserve to be able to legally participate in one of the most exciting trends to come to higher education in our lifetimes.

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