Say it, don’t tweet it? A question for public universities

01/01/2014 12:26 AM

01/01/2014 12:26 AM

The Kansas Board of Regents’ new policy limiting the use of social media may be scaring off good faculty members and damaging the image of Kansas public universities.

When news of it broke Dec. 18, University of Kansas professor Ronald Barrett-Gonzalez said, his telephone and email exploded with questions from professors around the globe wanting to know if Kansas public colleges really intended to suspend or fire those whom the administration deems have misused social media.

Regents adopted the policy after a University of Kansas journalism professor used Twitter to wish violence against the families of National Rifle Association members following a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

Under the policy, social media misuse includes communication that incites violence, that is “contrary to the best interest of the university” or that impairs “discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers.”

National education groups say the policy violates free speech and want it rescinded. Board of Regents leaders say a tweaking is possible but the policy is soundly constitutional. Regents were “very careful” to develop a policy that meets First Amendment rights, said board Chairman Fred Logan.

The regents did, however, announce plans Tuesday to have a work group review the policy.

Barrett-Gonzalez, president of the Kansas Conference of the American Association of University Professors, worries that, as it stands, the policy damages the reputation of the six regents-governed universities.

“Even if the regents now say we’ve made a mistake and reverse the policy... a large amount of damage will already have been done,” he said.

First, there’s the potential loss of quality faculty who might pass on a job, he said.

Second, the quality of instruction could wane since professors may stop using electronic media that allow open discussions, sometimes about controversial subjects.

Faculty see social media as the modern-day college green where professors and students gather to express views with fists in the air. The new policy, Barrett-Gonzalez said, is like being tear-gassed or arrested on the campus green for raising a sign.

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