After much outcry about the Kansas Board of Regents’ recently passed social media policy, a workgroup has been formed to review the policy and create recommendations.
Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Richard Muma and Victoria Mosack, president of the faculty senate, are representing Wichita State.
The policy, passed in December, gives public universities in Kansas the power to suspend, dismiss or terminate any university employee who “makes improper use of social media.”
The policy came after Richard Guth, a journalism professor at KU, made a controversial remark on Twitter regarding the National Rifle Association and school shootings.
Under the policy, “improper use” of social media includes communication that incites violence, is contrary to the best interests of the university, shares confidential student information and impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers.
“It’s the self-chilling effect of this kind of rule that’s the worst,” said Doug Bonney, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Kansas. “It raises the strong possibility that people will censor themselves out of fear that they will be disciplined or fired for their public comments that have nothing to do with their role or work as state employees, and that’s a bad thing under the First Amendment.”
The ACLU Foundation of Kansas, FIRE and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent a joint letter to the board asking them to rescind its policy.
Although the general policy is now in effect across the state, its internal application at Wichita State remains to be seen. President John Bardo said he will meet with the presidents of each constituent senate throughout the semester to receive their recommendations.
“That’s really where my focus is: on assuring that whatever we do internally with this in terms of how we manage it, that we manage it in a way that protects academic freedom within a framework of academic responsibility and the First Amendment,” Bardo said.
Dorothy Billings, a professor emeritus in cultural anthropology, said she disagrees with the policy.
“I think old-timers like me would say, ‘This [policy] is trash, who cares?’ But there are some younger people who don’t know how serious this is and aren’t sure that people will stand up for them,” Billings said.
Ted Ayres, vice president and legal counsel for the university, said he understands why the board felt they had to develop a policy.
“It (the Tweet) created a bit of a firestorm,” Ayres said. “People are going to have confidence in the leadership at each university that it’s not going to stifle that positive, creative (dialogue), even conversation that might be considered controversial.”
More than 80 professors from the University of Kansas and Kansas State University sent a letter to the regents to suspend the policy during the review process, which ran in an advertisement in the Manhattan Mercury, Lawrence Journal-World and Topeka Capital-Journal.
“I think it (the policy) infringes upon both constitutional issues and freedom of speech, and I think it tremendously impacts academic freedom, which lays at the heart of the university system,” said George Dehner, associate professor of history. “We have a responsibility not just to our immediate community and our immediate employers, but have a responsibility to our students and to our peers and this whole business we’re in.”