As noted in posts here and at Cato, the University of California, Berkeley is considering taking down free online course content rather than expose itself to liability and litigation over its possible lack of accessibility for some disabled users. One irony: even if the welfare of disabled persons is treated as the only important outcome, the application of the ADA is probably going to do harm, because online alternatives to classroom instruction are particularly valuable to disabled persons, notably those with impaired mobility. [Alex Tabarrok, FEE (“The ADA Attack on Online Courses Hurts the Disabled Too”) Scott Greenfield (from whom title is taken); The Suburbanist (“So if your disability keeps you homebound, then the ADA will prevent you from viewing online courses.”); Preston Cooper, Forbes.
Advancing a trend we’ve been warning about, the University of California, Berkeley, said it may have to take down educational course content posted free online for the benefit of the public due to an ongoing conflict with the U.S. Department of Justice over whether it is obliged to accompany the content with expensive captioning and other technological assists to make it more accessible to disabled visitors. I’ve got a write-up at Cato. More: Robby Soave, Reason; Andrej Karpathy Twitter thread about withdrawal of computer science videos; earlier on web accessibility. And this tweet, from Prof. Sam Bagenstos responding to Soave’s article, represents the culmination of the entire civil rights model.
- Will the University of Chicago’s new policy on free expression chill professors’ freedom to run their classes in their own way, as some claim? [Alex Morey/FIRE, Howard Wasserman/Prawfs] Jonathan Chait on how the safe spaces debate really isn’t about things like church groups or gay bars; and a judicious Ken White at Popehat on how safe space idea can make sense in private/chosen settings, but not as academic mandate.
- As federal Title IX enforcement percolates downward: e-mail from administrator at University of Alaska, Fairbanks, discusses expelling “perp” before investigation has begun [K.C. Johnson on Twitter] USC administrator: do they know who I am? [same] Wasn’t Columbia U. just serving up what its customers want? [Scott Greenfield] “OCR to Frostburg State University: Common Sense, ‘Reasonable Person’ Standard Violate Title IX” [Robby Soave]
- UW-Milwaukee poster campaign warns students against using terms like “lame,” “crazy,” and — inevitably? — “politically correct” [Jillian Kay Melchior/Heat Street, Robby Soave/Reason]
- The future of American higher education: fewer historians, more chief diversity officers [David Frum]
- “More on the sex panic at Yale” [KC Johnson, Minding the Campus]
- Capitol Hill Republicans keep shoveling cash at power-mad campus regulators, while tying hands of dissenters at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights [John Fund, NR]
If the climate among students on campus has turned markedly less favorable toward free expression in recent years, perhaps that is but a symptom of a deeper problem: academic opinion itself in relevant fields has turned less friendly toward free speech, which it is replacing with new concepts of speech-as-violence, speech-as-discrimination, and speech-as-scientifically-perilous-“denialism.” Each of these concepts invites the suppression of large categories of expression disapproved of by authorities. [Daniel Jacobson, Cato Policy Analysis No. 796] The paper also sheds light on how Yale law professor Robert Post might have come to write approvingly of government investigation into wrongful climate advocacy.
- How litigation-averse Western universities’ human-subjects-research protocols ignored cultural sensitivities and set back the study of native languages in Bhutan and the Himalayas [Zachary Schrag, IRB Blog]
- Judge to feds: not so fast on regulating school bathrooms [Jonathan Adler; Scott Shackford/Reason]
- California Supreme Court won’t hear Vergara constitutional challenge to teacher tenure law [Daniel Fisher, earlier]
- “Roommate drama lands Penn State sorority sisters in federal court” [Jeremy Roebuck, Philadelphia Daily News]
- “Is the walk to school really so terrifying?” [Lenore Skenazy, Tulsa World] “Mom Arrested for Leaving Kids Alone in the House While She Went Out for Food” [same]
- Feds are rolling out web accessibility settlements with local school systems and state education departments [Department of Education press release; our web accessibility tag]
- Wells Fargo declines to serve firm that sells knives online, which might relate to a “mass de-risking” trend that followed Operation Choke Point [Kelsey Harkness/Daily Signal, H. Clay Aalders/The Truth About Knives]
- “Time For Securities Lawyers To Stand Behind Their `Confidential Witnesses'” [Lyle Roberts via Daniel Fisher]
- Attractions of English law may help London retain luster as financial center post-Brexit [Jon Sindreu, WSJ]
- “Hillary Clinton’s ‘Exit Tax’ Is an Unseemly Example of Banana Republic Economics” [Daniel Mitchell, related earlier] Three good ideas from Clinton’s small business tax plan [Scott Greenberg, Tax Foundation]
- Lawyers file class actions against Yale, Harvard, MIT, many other universities, objecting to excessive fees on retirement fund investments [Ira Stoll, Future of Capitalism; Benjamin Edwards, PrawfsBlawg]
- “White House climate disclosure plan is major executive overreach.” [Ray Lehmann, R Street Institute]
Another huge ruling, as NLRB hurtles leftward at topmost speed during these final Obama months [Inside Higher Ed; Connor Wolf, Inside Source; Jarad Lucan via Daniel Schwartz] “Bringing a union into the mix could interfere with the primary purpose of the student’s relationship with the school: education. As dissenting NLRB member Philip Miscimarra writes, employers subject to NLRB jurisdiction may be required to disclose details of sexual harassment investigations to the union. Universities may also be required to tolerate ‘outrageous conduct’ by students, in their roles as unionized employees, which would otherwise violate the schools’ community standards.” [Preston Cooper, Forbes]
P.S.: No, they’re not done: “NLRB Likely To Drop More Pro-Union Rulings By End Of August” [Daniel Fisher]
After students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville used Facebook to post pictures of themselves in Hallowe’en “Three Blind Mice” costumes, a member of the school’s “Bias Incident Team” turned them in herself to the team, which decided that there was a risk the costume idea “makes fun of a disability.” The pictures have been taken down. “The University of Washington produced a six-minute video last year decrying ‘cultural appropriation’ around Halloween. Off-limits costumes included hula skirts, [straitjackets], sombreros, fake mustaches and martial-arts attire.” [Jillian Kay Melchior, Heat Street] No mention of possible offense to the tail-amputee community. More on bias response teams here.
The U.S. Department of Education has proposed new regulations that will make it easier for borrowers to avoid paying back student loans by alleging that they did not get the education they believed they were signing up for. [Anthony Caso via Caron]:
Called “borrower defense,” existing regulations allow forgiveness of student loans when the college violates state law, committing fraud. That means that the college made a knowingly false representation of a material fact and the student reasonably relied on that representation to his or her detriment. …
[The Department proposes to replace] the old fraud standard with “substantial misrepresentation,” which they helpfully define to mean “misleading under the circumstances.” You might ask what that means. Nobody knows. The standard is left intentionally vague so that Department of Education bureaucrats can make it up as they go along. If there is no legal standard, then everybody is subject to suit.
Did the school advertise some leading professors who retired or moved to other schools before you graduated? Obviously misleading — sue them. Did the school mention some of its more famous alumni — perhaps a Hollywood star — while the only job you can get with your drama degree is as a barista at Starbuck’s? Now you can sue, claiming that the glossy puff piece from the school was misleading.
- Universities across the country steer mandatory student fee proceeds and other privileges to intensely ideological Public Interest Research Groups [David Seidemann, City Journal; PIRG’s crucial role in backing the truly ghastly CPSIA law on children’s products] When a university shuts off this money spigot, does the First Amendment cut more in favor of the group’s right to go on collecting money, or the rights of “students compelled to fund advocacy with which they may not agree”? [Short Circuit, scroll to 14th item on Ninth Circuit decision in Arizona Students’ Association v. Arizona Board of Regents]
- Appeal to “personal experience, performance, and radical politics” changing college debate for the worse [John Hinderaker, PowerLine, 2014 (thanks commenter for spotting date)]
- “The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale” [Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, on Nicholas and Erika Christakis case at Yale; Paul Caron/TaxProf with more links] More: Identity, activism. and sensitivity on campus: Nathan Heller report from Oberlin [New Yorker]
- Government is our provider: new push to extend school feeding program into community colleges [George Leef, Pope Center]
- University of Northern Colorado: “‘Bias Response Team’ Threatened Prof To Change His Lessons” [Jillian Kay Melchior, Heat Street] Candidates for tenure at Pomona College will need to explain what they are doing to promote diversity in classroom [Inside Higher Ed]
- “When Social Justice Education Is Mandatory, But Math Is Not” [Robby Soave; University of Massachusetts, Amherst]