Social-media policy group recommends broad changes

| Marcus Clem editor in chief |

A five-month old Kansas Board of Regents social-media policy is a risk to academic freedom, says a task force appointed by the regents to review the policy.
The Collegio has obtained a 26-page document released by the work group of university officials that was circulated by Wichita State University’s public relations office on Tuesday, April 8.
The document details what changes the work group would like to see made to a policy that covers staff and faculty use of social media and, in a way that prompted severe national controversy, allows university administrators to discipline social-media postings “contrary to the best interest” of their institutions.
The policy is currently in force for all Kansas higher-education institutions, including Pittsburg State. It was put in place after David Guth, a professor at the University of Kansas, posted a controversial message on his Twitter feed.
“The blood is on the hands of the #NRA,” Guth said in the post, reacting to a September mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”

‘Quite a bit broader’

The recommendations to the regents, says Dacia Clark, one of Pittsburg State’s two representatives on the 13-member work group, are quite a bit broader in scope than she believes the regents may have expected.
“They’re going to be disappointed,” said Clark, senior administrative specialist for alumni and constituent relations, “if they were expecting minor revisions because that’s not what they’re getting.”
Clark’s description of the work-group report contrasts sharply with statements made by Regent Fred Logan, chair of the Kansas Board of Regents, who visited Pittsburg State’s Wilkinson Alumni Center on Monday, April 7.
During the visit, he opened himself and his colleagues to questions about anything and everything from university staff.
He was emphatic about one topic, though: the board’s social media policy.
“I don’t want to give anyone the impression that we’re going to repeal or replace our policy,” Logan said. “That won’t happen. Just trust me. That won’t happen.”

Document’s key points

Essentially, the work group’s recommendation says the entire idea of a disciplinary policy being necessary to govern university use of social media is flawed.
“Disciplinary control over employee expression that may be appropriate in other governmental agencies is contrary to the university’s mission and faculty and staff responsibilities,” the recommendation’s overview reads.
“Many members of the work group and many faculty and staff who submitted comments on our draft proposal believe there should be no social media policy at all.”
Karl Kunkel, dean of arts and sciences, says that the situation makes sense because, for example, Pittsburg State’s Faculty Senate regularly passes resolutions denouncing the policy as written.
“But the board is pretty committed to the current policy,” he said. “They don’t see anything wrong with it. They think it’s based on current law, that it protects freedom of speech. A lot of people see it differently.”

Current law?

Regent Mildred Edwards complemented Logan’s expression on the issue at the April 7 visit by emphasizing that the board holds the policy to be a direct adaptation of current law, as defined by the Supreme Court cases Garcetti v. Ceballos and Pickering v. Board of Education.
“Our policy may need some sanding,” she said, “but to change the law would not be possible. So I don’t want to give anybody the impression that this committee is going to come back and say, ‘We’re going to start all over.’”
The recommendation deals with this point extensively.
“These decisions addressed employee speech,” it reads, “in government agencies where the agency mission is not to advance knowledge through free expression of ideas and scholarly evaluation of ideas.”
In short, the report argues, no suggestion should ever be made that a Kansas Board of Regents policy could endanger a professor or employee’s right to express an idea except in extreme cases.
Clark says that the regents will treat the recommendation as being profoundly different from what the board had in mind when they appointed the work group.
“We talked in the work group,” she said, “and someone said, ‘They gave us an airplane and we gave them back a boat.’”
To read the entire 26-page work group document, visit the Collegio’s website at www.psucollegio.com

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