Kansas regents' new social media rules come under fire

Several members of Kansas State University faculty and other education groups are asking the board of regents to repeal a new social media policy devised in the wake of criticism about a journalism professor's anti-NRA tweet.

The Kansas Board of Regents last week decided that university officials can fire faculty and staff who post messages on social media that conflict with the institution's best interests and efficient operations.

The policy came partly in response to a tweet by Kansas University journalism professor David Guth that blamed the National Rifle Association and its opposition to gun control in the September Navy Yard shootings that killed 13 people in Washington, D.C.

Philip Nel, a Kansas State distinguished professor of English, co-wrote a letter to the regents calling for the policy's immediate repeal, The Lawrence Journal-World reported.

"By revoking the faculty and staff's right to freedom of speech, the new social media policy is an affront to academic freedom and academic excellence," the letter stated.

More than 40 Kansas State professors signed the letter, which also warned that the policy could also drive "away both potential hires and current faculty."

"Every faculty member with which I've spoken has expressed the same outrage I have," Nel said.

The Kansas conference of the American Association of University Professors has also urged the regents to withdraw the policy "before any more reputational damage is done to the state's otherwise excellent regents institutions."

Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, a KU professor of aerospace engineering and president of the Kansas Conference of the American Association of University Professors, said he has heard that some faculty members changed their lesson plans out of concern that social media they use in classes could make them liable under the policy.

The national AAUP also published a statement condemning the policy as a "gross violation of the fundamental principles of academic freedom that have been the cornerstone of American higher education for nearly a century."

And, the national Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has criticized the policy on legal grounds, arguing that the Supreme Court says academic freedom has special consideration under the First Amendment.

Regents Chairman Fred Logan disagreed that the policy is a violation of academic freedom.

"I think the policy was very carefully drawn to protect both First Amendment rights and academic freedom," he said, but it also "recognized a duty to the employer."

Logan said the regents are open to feedback.

"Any policy that the board adopts is always the subject of additional conversation," he said.