The Kansas Board of Regents seems to have leaped headlong into a briar patch — and its only explanation for all the cuts and scratches seems to be: “Well, being silly isn’t illegal.”
The idea that you might not be breaking the law really isn’t a basis for sound thinking, however.
The Board of Regents proved that on Wednesday with a clumsy new policy designed to give the state’s six universities wide authority to discipline anyone who uses social media improperly.
The new rule basically translates to this: “Forget about tenure or fairness or anything else. If someone makes a statement on Twitter or Facebook that you don’t like, well…
“Boot them down the road.”
We’ll assume the regents’ general counsel, Julene Miller, was satisfied with the legality of this bizarre new mandate after running it past Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Maybe it does, barely, meet the schools’ First Amendment obligation to respect free speech.
But just because something might be legal doesn’t mean it’s right.
Almost everyone in the state understands that the regents, under heavy pressure from the legislature, are reacting to an incendiary Twitter post made earlier this year by University of Kansas professor David Guth.
It wasn’t very nice, Guth’s tirade against the National Rife Association, but it certainly wasn’t reason for the Board of Regents to smash academic freedom into little bitty pieces.
Predictably, faculty groups nationwide have been lining up to take swings at Kansas for this attempt to shut off discussion and discourse.
The most offensive item on the list of social media offenses — for which personnel now can be suspended or fired — says that you’ve violated policy if you write anything that “…is contrary to the best interest of the university.”
In other words, whatever might offend the wrong person or political group.
That’s such a catch-all phrase that the policy might as well just state that a university can dump any employee on whatever whim comes to mind.
A restriction like that would be considered extremely punitive in an ordinary business. But at a university, supposedly the bastion of free expression and debate, it borders on idiotic — and self-defeating.
Would any high-echelon educator want to cross the nation for a job at KU or K-State under a threat like this?
Not a chance.
The regents’ position is that they needed to put a policy in place after the Guth fiasco.
But this isn’t just a policy.
It’s an anti-free speech manifesto that sounds like a pronouncement from the government of a banana republic.
The Board of Regents truly should back up, take a deep breath, and decide on something that meets the needs of its great universities.
This first try was ghastly, pure and simple, and should be stricken down immediately.