Shortly after I posted this, the State of Minnesota changed its mind, as reported here. Nice to know that officialdom can change its mind in the face of the blazingly obvious.
In a sign of just how deeply rooted cultural prejudices against free culture truly are, the State of Minnesota has banned Coursera, the free online course website, from offering its courses to Minnesota citizens. As reported in Slate magazine (itself drawn from the Chronicle of Higher Education), “Free Online Education Illegal in Minnesota.” Coursera is a website that partners with Stanford, Columbia, the University of Michigan and other top universities around the world to offer some of their courses online for free.
Why is this so objectionable to the state of Minnesota? Technically, the state wants to enforce its right to approve anyone that offers educational instruction within its borders. It is especially concerned with preventing fly-by-night schools from bilking people with worthless degrees.
But if the courses offered are for free, and if no degrees are being offered, what’s the problem? The state official in charge of enforcing the law told the Slate reporter that Minnesota residents could be wasting their time by taking the courses. So it's come to this: state regulators are worried about our frittering away our time on free courses like “Principles of Macroeconomics” and “Modern and Contemporary American Poetry.”