Programs, regulations, and policies established by Democrats and often driven by the Left are often established with the best of intentions. They are nominally designed to help those in need or otherwise mitigate an actual or perceived social injustice. At the beginning they sometimes work quite well, but because they give power to centralized government, it doesn't take very long for the original good intent to be expanded dramatically by politicians and bureaucrats. Simple regulations and policies become hundreds or even thousands of pages long. Enforcement, once benign, is extended to an army of enforcers, backed by an even bigger army of government functionaries and lawyers, driven by a grievance industry that does everything possible to extend and expand the original intent. The end result is Big Intrusive Government (B.I.G.) regulations that jettison common sense and replace it with offensive government powers.
A recent case in point is illustrative. The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was originally created with the very best of intentions. After all, who didn't want to provide common sense accommodations for those who are truly disabled.? Andrew Ferguson comments on a law that started out well and morphed into a monstrosity:
... The ADA gave the federal bureaucracy the authority to muscle its way into the interactions of private citizens as never before. For the first time, a civil servant in Washington could reach across the country to demand, for example, that a store owner in Spittoon, Kansas, build his grocery shelves to whatever height the bureaucrat chose. For good measure the grocer could be fined if his water fountain spouted water at the incorrect angle.Ferguson goes on to tell a story about UC Berkeley travails with the ACA. Berkeley, a bastion of left-wing thought and political correctness is, despite this, an outstanding academic institution. Ferguson writes:
The ADA spread a feast for plaintiffs' lawyers. Its provisions are so comprehensively intrusive that no business could hope to be in perfect compliance. One federal manual, covering the single topic of "accessible design," comes to more than 275 pages. Walter Olson, author of The Litigation Explosion, has tracked many of the tens of thousands of lawsuits—from the deaf patient awarded $400,000 because his rheumatologist failed to provide a sign language interpreter, to the police dispatcher who won a settlement for discrimination after she was fired. Her disability was narcolepsy.
Since 2012, UC Berkeley (among many other schools) has offered video and audio recordings of many of its courses to the general public, via YouTube and iTunes U. The Seussian acronym is MOOCs, for massive open online courses. Over the years Berkeley's catalogue of MOOCs has grown to more than 40,000 hours of high-end pedagogy. There are introductory courses in economics, European history, statistics, physics, geography, and pretty much everything else. More advanced courses range from "Scientific Approaches to Consciousness" and "Game Theory" to "The Planets" and "Philosophy of Language," this last taught by John Searle, the country's, and maybe the world's, greatest living philosopher.MOOCs are a wonderful thing—all free, enhancing the knowledge of every person who desires to learn. They really do represent the best of the Internet. In many cases, the MOOCs are simply a video of classroom lectures, populated by Powerpoint slides, and in some cases, but not all, closed captioning.
Enter the ADA. A single deaf person complained to the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) that the MOOC course she wanted did not have closed captioning. It should be noted that Berkeley has widespread guidelines for "accessibility" for those student and faculty who are disabled. But doesn't applyb them for free MOOCs because—cost. Ferguson continues:
NAD went straight to the white-hot center of the American grievance industry, the federal government's Department of Justice. The organization filed a complaint with DoJ on behalf of Nowak and a Gallaudet colleague as "aggrieved individuals." The government lawyers got to work.The cost associated with correcting these "acts of discrimination" for all MOOCs as demanded by DoJ would be in the millions of dollars. Ferguson describes what happened next:
...None of this impressed the Justice Department or the aggrieved individuals or the activist organization of which they are a part. Note that the accommodations listed above are for students and faculty only. But Berkeley opened its MOOCs to the general public. Among the videos, the intrepid DoJ investigators discovered some without captions, thus discriminating against members of the general public who are deaf. Some "contain[ed] text [that] had poor color contrast," thus discriminating against Americans with visual impairments. Others contained graphs and charts in which "information was sometimes conveyed using one color alone," thus discriminating against the color-blind.
In August, Rebecca Bond, chief of DoJ's Disability Rights Section, sent a letter to UC Berkeley administrators demanding that these acts of discrimination be corrected. In addition, the school would have to "pay compensatory damages to aggrieved individuals for injuries caused by UC Berkeley's failure to comply" with the ADA.
The easiest course, administrators concluded, was simply to pull all the MOOCs from the Internet, so that disabled members of the general public will no longer have to be subjected to such discriminatory offenses—and, also, so that the federal government won't sue UC Berkeley. Last week Vice Chancellor Cathy Koshland announced that beginning March 15, Berkeley's vast library of online courses would no longer be publicly available. If they couldn't be accessible to a member of NAD, they won't be accessible to anyone.So, because a deaf person might not be able to participate in one free MOOC out of hundreds; because a few visually impaired people can't read text or graphics in MOOCs whose contrast isn't up to regulatory dictate, everyone must loose an educational resource. That. Is. Insane.
Recall that these courses are provided for free, are not required for anything other than the love of learning, and can be replaced by different educational content specifically designed for those with disabilities. But B.I.G. will have its way. The regulatory state prevailed and the vast majority of the rest of us lost.
Donald Trump and his administration has committed to reduce regulation and chip away at B.I.G. I wish him the best in this endeavor, but honestly, it's probably futile. B.I.G. fights hard to maintain its power, supported by many Democrats and a few Republicans who believe that centralized power is the only power, even when it tramples the rights of most of us. Berkeley MOOCs are only one of thousands of examples of B.I.G. regulatory over-reach. It should be stopped, but I doubt that will happen.