Kansas professors need more protection in social media policy

04/23/2014 5:12 PM

04/23/2014 6:46 PM

In what was framed as an effort to be thoughtful, the Kansas Board of Regents a few months ago commissioned a review of its much-criticized social media policy for professors.

The review, by university faculty and employees, proposes that a new policy “assure faculty and staff that traditional protections for scholarly expression remain broad and are academically appropriate.”

But apparently, the review was more about public relations than formative dialogue. Regents Chairman Fred Logan and others belittled it at first glance.

The initial controversial policy emerged after University of Kansas professor David Guth fired off a tweet at members of the NRA following last year’s Navy Yard massacre: “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.”

A political conflagration ensued, legislators called for Guth’s removal, and he was placed on administrative leave.

Instead of using the situation to begin a healthy conversation about free speech and social media in academia, the regents seized it as an opportunity to squelch freedom of expression at the six state universities. The regents presented a policy with vague language — “contrary to the best interest of the university” — that gives administrators undue power to reprimand and fire faculty for what they say online.

Logan agreed to a review after the regents’ policy came under fire from faculty and some top campus officials. But the rude reception of the review team’s suggestions only validates suspicions that the governing board had no intention of backing down from its repressive policy.

There is still time to be constructive. The next draft of the policy is slated for release in May. The work of the faculty review team deserves much more respectful consideration.

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