Kansas regents lose respect with bungled social media policy

Perhaps there is a way the Kansas Board of Regents could have done a worse job of writing a social media policy.

But it’s hard to see how.

In its rush to overreact to a problematic tweet by a University of Kansas professor, the governing board of the state’s public universities wrote a punitive policy regulating use of social media by employees.

The most offensive part cleared the way for faculty to be disciplined for a comment that was judged to stray from “the best interest” of the university.

Shockingly, no university employees were asked for input about the policy before it was drafted. Not shockingly, they objected vociferously once it became public.

The Regents back-pedaled and commissioned a “work group” of faculty and other university personnel. It came back with a robust defense of academic freedom and asked the regents to use its policy as a general guideline but with the threat of disciplinary action deleted.

The board folded the work group’s free speech language into its policy but refused to tone down the punitive aspect. The result, which the Regents adopted unanimously on Wednesday, is a policy that exhorts academic freedom while taking measures to stifle it.

With that action, academics lost the freedom of bold, spontaneous expression in today’s most popular forums. The Regents lost respect and credibility.