Kansas professors weigh in on social media policy

04/28/2014 12:59 PM

04/28/2014 12:59 PM

Professors and staff members from state universities across Kansas came together over the weekend to criticize a policy the Board of Regents plans to put in place soon that would allow university chiefs to fire employees for social media posts.

Roughly 50 attended a forum on the University of Kansas campus Sunday to discuss the policy, which was announced by the regents in December in response to a tweet three months earlier by Kansas journalism professor David Guth, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.

That Twitter post was critical of the National Rifle Association after the September shootings that left 13 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington. Guth apologized and was placed on administrative leave. He is taking a sabbatical from the university during the spring semester.

Sunday's three-hour forum, sponsored by the Joint Council of Kansas Distinguished Professors, featured several lectures from university professors on academic freedom, free speech rights and social media. Nearly a dozen others offered input in discussion sessions.

Most — if not all — of those who spoke criticized the proposed policy.

Charles Epp, a University of Kansas professor of public affairs and administration, is co-chairman of a social media work group created by the regents to recommend changes to the policy. He briefed forum participants on his impressions of what shape he thinks the policy ultimately will take.

"It is a policy that will include admonitions to respect academic freedom and the First Amendment," he said. "At the same time, it includes what appears to be legally enforceable language that withdraws some protections from work-related speech."

The policy gives university CEOs the power to suspend or fire employees for social media posts that conflict with the best interests of the school or its ability to perform services. The regents are expected to formally adopt a policy early next month.

Epp's working group suggested replacing disciplinary language with advisory wording, but he said the regents showed no interest in removing the disciplinary aspects.

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