‘Welcome to East Germany, Kan.’ Kansas social media policy denounced by SPJ president

kansasflagIt’s been called an “amazing assault on academic freedom” and almost universally panned by academics. Now the president of the Society of Professional Journalists is calling the social media policy affecting Kansas universities downright totalitarian.

“There is no need for this policy other than to chill speech and muzzle dissidents,” David Cuillier, SPJ’s president and a University of Arizona journalism professor, told the College Fix. “Welcome to East Germany, Kansas.”

The policy was created by the Kansas Board of Regents is in the wake of KU professor David Guth‘s tweet about the NRA following last September’s shooting at a Maryland naval facility. Guth was suspended after his comments, which created a firestorm and were widely condemned.

The policy – which affects employees at every public university in the state, not just KU – says anyone can be disciplined or even fired for comments they make on social media, if the comments are deemed detrimental to the university.

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.’”

In response to critics, the Regents revised the policy last month, including an assertion it supports academic freedom:

“The Kansas Board of Regents strongly supports principles of academic freedom. It highly values the work of state university faculty members. Academic freedom protects their work and enhances the valuable service they provide to the people of Kansas.”

A statement from the Association for Education and Journalism and Mass Communications said the policy could have a detrimental impact on journalism education: “If Kansas’ journalism professors are afraid to teach students how to use these reporting tools because they may violate a vague social media policy, the future journalists they train will be unprepared for the real world of journalism in the digital age.”

The College Fix reported SPJ’s Cuillier said the social media policy could also be “could be used against the student journalists on campus if they report news that is ‘contrary to the best interests of the employer. This policy can and will be abused to intimidate aggressive student journalists, and that’s a huge issue.”

KU j-school Dean Ann Brill told the College Fix that would not happen.

“The KU School of Journalism and Mass Communication will continue to teach its excellent students to report and write based on our traditional values,” Brill said in an email to The College Fix, especially “courses in the use and production of social media that are based in our tenets of academic freedom and The First Amendment.  All that will continue.”

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