In wake of KU Twitter controversy, Kansas regents approve new policy for faculty use of social media

University of Kansas professor David Guth
University of Kansas professor David Guth AP

The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved its first-ever policy aimed at addressing the way faculty and staff at six state universities use social media.

Establishing the policy was a direct result of controversy that erupted earlier this year when University of Kansas associate professor David Guth wrote on his personal Twitter account about the National Rifle Association and its members’ children. The comments went viral, and Guth was put on administrative leave until the university could figure out how to respond.

“When the incident with David Guth occurred at the University of Kansas, it made the nine-member board realize no policy existed regarding the use of social media,” said Breeze Richardson, a board of regents spokeswoman.

The board said in a statement that the policy was needed because of social media’s “particular susceptibility to misuse and damage to our universities.”

“The goal was to craft a constitutionally sound policy, utilizing Supreme Court language, that does not violate the free speech or due process rights of university employees while also establishing guidelines for employees and employers,” Richardson said.

The regents’ general counsel, Julene Miller, solicited review of the policy from the state attorney general’s office.

The regents’ policy, effective immediately, gives a university’s top leader the authority to suspend or fire any faculty or staff member who improperly uses social media, including Facebook, Twitter and other sites.

The policy’s list of improper uses includes communications that incite violence, disclose student information or research data, or are “contrary to the best interest of the university.”

The Guth matter has been resolved and will not be subject to the new policy.

He was placed on leave Sept. 20 after posting a comment after the Washington Navy Yard shootings. “Blood is on the hands” of the NRA, he tweeted. “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters.”

KU officials in October said Guth would not be allowed to teach again this academic year. He was assigned non-classroom responsibilities, including some administrative assignments, to be met “away from campus to the greatest extent possible,” a university statement said.