This story is of vital importance. The Kansas Board of Regents policy could become a model for restricting academic freedom in other states. Here is a summary of the policy –
The policy’s list of improper uses includes communications that incite violence; that disclose student information or research data; that are “contrary to the best interest of the university”; that impair “discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers”; or that have “a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary.”
I’m an attorney. It would be simple to find grounds under this policy to fire almost any faculty member who uses social media. In particular, the phrase, “best interest of the university” is troubling. What does that mean? I would suggest it means whatever a college administrator thinks it means.
There have always been those who wanted to remove college faculty from the political process, to curb their influence on social policy, and to regulate the content of their teaching. It would appear their day has come. All over the United States, the knives are out. Controversial courses, teaching materials and outspoken faculty have all become targets.
If professors, instructors, adjuncts and faculty senates don’t join this fight, who will and when?
Still Digging: Kansas State Board of Regents’ Latest Social Media Policy Remains Flawed
Way back in January, I wrote a post here on The Torch telling the Kansas State Board of Regents to reacquaint itself with the first rule of holes: If you’re in one, stop digging.
Unfortunately, the Board didn’t take my advice. So here we are in May, still talking about how the First Amendment rights of faculty members at Kansas’ public universities are threatened by the Board’s deeply flawed attempt to regulate social media. To label this lack of progress “disappointing” would be an understatement.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reported yesterday that the Board of Regents appears ready to pass a newly revised policy governing social media use (defined as everything from blog posts to tweets) by faculty. This new policy, accessible on page 32 of the agenda for the May 14–15 meeting of the Board of Regents, responds to the overwhelming criticism sparked by the Board’s last attempt to regulate faculty speech online, a shockingly broad set of restrictions adopted in December that prompted blistering criticism from FIRE, the National Coalition Against Censorship, the ACLU Foundation of Kansas, the national American Association of University Professors, the Kansas AAUP chapter, and the Student Press Law Center. The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression awarded the Board of Regents a 2014 “Jefferson Muzzle,” a dishonor reserved for the nation’s most egregious censors. Questions were even raised about whether the restrictions adopted in December would threaten the University of Kansas’ accreditation.
After that kind of outcry, one might have expected the Board of Regents to have come to its senses and to have adopted a social media policy that protects the First Amendment rights of its faculty. To help the Board do the right thing, a committee of representatives from each school even drafted a model policy that provided sufficient First Amendment protection for faculty speech. But instead of endorsing the workgroup’s suggested policy and calling it a day, the Board has decided to mix-and-match parts of that policy with its own draft, and the results aren’t good. In other words, the Board continues to dig that hole deeper.
From Around the Web.
From the web site, Student Press Law Center.
If members of the Kansas Board of Regents have a low tolerance for unkind online speech, they’d best keep their browsers closed. Plenty is coming their way.
“Wrongheaded,” “travesty” and “absurdly broad … cartoonish” were some of the more tempered reactions Friday to a hurry-up “social media policy” that the Regents enacted this week, providing that university employees can be fired for online speech their supervisors deem “improper.”
The policy appears directly responsive to a controversy over a University of Kansas journalism professor’s mean-spirited Twitter post criticizing the National Rifle Association, a remark that earned him a semester-long suspension.
Members of the Regents, the governing board that sets policy for six state universities including KU, are facing a torrent of criticism after Wednesday’s vote to give supervisors greater disciplinary authority over what employees say on “any facility for online publication and commentary.” (The full text of the rule is available here.)
Under the policy, supervisors have essentially complete authority to punish speech made “in furtherance of” an employee’s official duties, and more limited authority — taking into account the First Amendment right to address matter of public concern — over all other online speech, including purely personal speech created during off-hours. Among the grounds for discipline: Speech that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers” or “adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.”