Update January 15, 2014: Kansas Regents chairman Fred Logan refuses request by faculty to suspend controversial policy pending review. http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2014/jan/15/regents-chair-refuses-suspend-social-media-policy/
According to multiple reports, it looks like the Kansas Board of Regents’ controversial social media policy will have a short life.
The policy is meant to define responsible use of social media by faculty and staff at the state’s six higher education institutions. The mandated policy was implemented December 18, 2013 with no input from either faculty or staff at any of the state’s institutions.
The policy was inspired by a tweet from journalism professor David Guth (seen below) wishing the death of children of National Rifle Association members. Guth apologized for the tweet after the fact and was placed on administrative leave in the fall of 2013. He has not returned to teaching duties yet.
Faculty members came to the aid of Guth claiming he was punished for exercising freedom of speech while some state legislators urged the university to fire him. The American Association of University Professors called the policy “a gross violation of the fundamental principles of academic freedom."
The controversial policy sets limits on how staff and faculty at state schools can use social media, something that civil rights advocates see as troubling. Frank Lamonte, Director of the Student Press Law Center says the policy is troubling on many levels, especially as it applies to organizations trying to keep their image untarnished by denying the rights of its employees to free speech.
“At its heart, the Kansas policy exemplifies a larger problem afflicting all of government – the hair-trigger use of punitive authority whenever the agency’s public image is imperiled. At many, if not most, government agencies today, it is easier to get fired for making the agency look bad than for actually doing your job badly,” Lamonte wrote for Inside Higher Ed.
The Board of Regents defended the need for the statement saying social media has “susceptibility to misuse and damage to our universities.” Fred Logan, chairman of the Board told the Chronicle of Higher Ed they consulted several resources to put the policy together including “drawing on language from Supreme Court cases.”
Guth would have qualified for the point in the new policy that prohibits “inciting violence or breaching the peace.”
On December 31, 2013, the Board announced a workgroup had been established to review the policy. Today, the Board received a letter signed by 80 of the state’s “most distinguished professors” asking for the policy to be suspended until the review is concluded. The Board said it cannot comment on the letter until it has been reviewed.