“If you are going to sin, sin against God, not the bureaucracy,” quipped World War II Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover. “God will forgive you, but the bureaucracy won’t.” The University of California-Berkeley might have considered this warning before it committed the heinous crime of uploading some YouTube videos.
Last August, Justice Department officials sent California’s flagship public university a ten-page letter alleging that its free online educational content, which includes recordings of lectures and events uploaded to YouTube and iTunes U, was out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Among the complaints were a lack of captions on some of the videos and “insufficient color contrast” in some onscreen figures. Rather than go through the time and expense of bringing upwards of 43,000 hours of online content into regulatory compliance, Berkeley understandably decided to just pull the plug.
As Inside Higher Ed first reported, the university decided last week to remove all content from public view on the iTunes U and YouTube platforms. Enrolled students will still be able to access it, but the general public will not. The removal will start on March 15, so if you want to experience a Berkeley class without paying $33,000, head over to the university’s YouTube channel within the next eight days.
Berkeley will keep limited content free and publicly accessible through edX, a nonprofit started by Harvard and MIT offering massive open online courses (MOOCs) created by top universities around the world. These courses are free and simple to enroll in, and some even provide students with credit towards their degrees at brick-and-mortar universities. But edX too has faced a Justice Department assault under the banner of the ADA. EdX continues to operate, but the sustained barrage of ADA-related complaints against online education may scare other providers away from offering content through this innovative format.
As the cost of college continues to skyrocket, elite universities making their educational content available for free should be celebrated—or, at the very least, uncontroversial. But as usual, innovation has run afoul of laws and regulations that have not been updated to fit the time.