attention Jeff Sessions
How the Obama DOJ Killed an Open Education Effort at Berkeley

The Obama Administration’s Department of Justice told UC Berkeley last year that it needed to add captions to tens of thousands of free online lectures to make them more accessible to the deaf or risk a lawsuit. UC Berkeley has now resolved this complaint… by removing the lectures from public view entirely. Inside Higher Education reports:

The University of California, Berkeley, will cut off public access to tens of thousands of video lectures and podcasts in response to a U.S. Justice Department order that it make the educational content accessible to people with disabilities.

Today, the content is available to the public on YouTube, iTunes U and the university’s webcast.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.

The university’s calculation was simple: Revising its vast store of free online materials to the DOJ’s satisfaction would be expensive and time-consuming for the cash-strapped public institution. If leaving the lectures online as they are could make the university vulnerable to a federal lawsuit, well, then why not just take them down! In other words, in an effort to expand access to Berkeley’s educational resources, the DOJ has ended up eliminating access for non-students.

Of course, an advocate of the Obama DOJ might have said that this outcome is entirely appropriate—better to signal our absolute commitment to equality in the abstract than to actually improve outcomes in practice. In some cases, such a tradeoff might be called for. But here, it seems clear to us, the costs are too high. The DOJ’s campaign against Berkeley amounts to a crusade not just for equal protection and equal dignity but for equalism—a futile effort to erase every last one of nature’s injustices and in so doing throw sand in the gears of a well-intentioned and worthy project.

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