New Kansas social media policy is ‘amazing assault on academic freedom’

A new social media policy approved last week by the Kansas Board of Regents is “an amazing assault on academic freedom” that is drawing criticism from all corners.

According to The Kansas City Star, “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 policy was created in response to the firestorm created by a tweet from KU professor David Guth, blaming the NRA for the Navy Yard shooting.

Guth was suspended, and it became apparent KU didn’t know how exactly to handle the situation, since there was no social media policy in place.

Now there is, and it’s already being called “arbitrary,” “ham-handed,” and a “gross violation of of the fundamental principals of academic freedom.”

“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,” Regents’ spokeswoman Breeze Richardson said.

But critics say it’s vague, and gives broad authority to university leaders to dismiss university employees whose use of social media “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers” or is “contrary to the best interests of the university,” whatever that means.

“Given the thin-skinned nature of some Kansas politicians, a blog post critical of the state Legislature may not reflect the best interest of the university,” warned The Star.

The Star’s editorial board continues: “It was devised with no input from faculty members, and it shows. In giving university leaders the authority to discipline or terminate even tenured professors for vague, subjective offenses, the regents have set up a chilling environment that runs contrary to the ideal of academic freedom.”

KU professor Gerald Mikkelson told the Lawrence Journal-World, “he was ‘not only surprised but shocked’ by the policy, which he described as ‘repressive’ and a ‘threat to the already existing mechanisms for dealing with malfeasance.’

‘It’s a direct affront to the faculty and staff,’ he said.”

The Washington Post says the new policy restricts free speech, and Inside Higher Ed noted the policy comes soon after the American Association of University Professors published “a draft report on academic freedom in the digital era — a report calling for as full protection of faculty speech online as in person.”

(Academics are people, too, right?)



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