When Equality Harms Us All

Right now, anyone who so chooses can watch or listen to over 20,000 lectures from UC Berkeley for free. There are free lectures on physics, psychology, history, chemistry, mathematics, statistics, art, biology, mechanical engineering, law, and many other subjects. If you want to learn, if you want to better yourself, but do not have a spare $30,000 lying around to attend UC Berkeley each year, this is an amazing resource to further your education.

And it will all end on March 15.

In one week, all of these publicly available lectures will be removed from UC Berkeley’s website, YouTube page, iTunes, and every other platform. After March 15, the lectures will only be available to UC Berkeley students.

Berkeley youtube

Why? Did the administrators at UC Berkeley suddenly become greedy or uncaring? Did the college president decide the lectures were too valuable to give away for free? No. UC Berkeley is removing over 20,000 lectures freely provided to the public under orders from the federal government.

Two employees from Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf, filed a complaint with the Justice Department that the publicly available lectures from UC Berkeley did not contain closed captions and other content that would make them accessible to the deaf. Last August, the Justice Department determined that UC Berkeley was in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act. After that determination, UC Berkeley was left with two choices: pay an exorbitant amount of money to make tens of thousands of free lectures accessible to everyone with a disability, or make them inaccessible to the public.

UC Berkeley made the only choice it could. Under orders from the government, in the name of the public good a college will cease providing free educational resources to the public.

Maybe UC Berkeley has a lecture on logic they could provide to the government.

No one wants people with disabilities to be denied access to any resource. But we need to be reasonable about it. Gallaudet University’s website says that less that half of one percent of Americans are functionally deaf, and most of those lost their hearing in old age. Now, because 0.38% of Americans could not enjoy the free lectures from UC Berkeley, the government is ensuring the other 99.62% cannot either.

And here we see the problem with demanding everyone be exactly equal. The only way to make everyone equal is to make the vast majority worse off. Deaf Americans did not gain anything from the Justice Department’s decision, but the hundreds of thousands of people who furthered their education through this free service have lost something.

The Americans With Disabilities Act was of course passed with noble intentions, just like most laws. But this is proof that a powerful government can turn even an honorable cause into a rigidly harmful vendetta.