The Kansas Board of Regents shouldn’t be surprised that faculty at its universities feel double- crossed.
The Regents last December drew up a policy on the use of social media, largely in response to an anti-NRA tweet by a journalism professor at the University of Kansas and subsequent calls from influential legislators that the professor be fired. Instead, the professor, David Guth, apologized and was placed on administrative leave. He is on sabbatical this semester.
The policy authorizes universities to suspend and even fire employees, including tenured faculty, for using social media in a way that is “contrary to the best interests of the university” or that might undermine “harmony among coworkers.”
Not surprisingly, faculty objected, saying the policy restricted their academic freedom as well as their freedom of speech. The outrage wasn’t limited to Kansas. The policy drew national attention — almost entirely negative — and gave a black eye to public higher education in this state.
To their credit, the Regents agreed to review their policy. Unfortunately, when the working group charged with proposing revisions presented its guidelines on the responsible use of social media to the Regents Governance Committee last week, the Regents all but dismissed them.
Regent Tim Emert said the working group had been expected to recommend corrections, not major changes. “If any professor gave an assignment and the student came back with something completely different, the grade would not be very good,” he said.
Regents Chair Fred Logan recommended emphasizing First Amendment protections and language on academic freedom, as the working group urged. He also recommended including a 1940 statement by the American Association of University Professors that says college faculty should “be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations.”
Notably, however, the Regents made clear that language referring to discipline or termination would remain in the policy.
The shame of this entire episode is that it has been unnecessary. All that the Board of Regents’ policy had to say was that the board would follow the Constitution and the law with regard to social media policy. That, after all, has been members’ defense of language referring to the authority to discipline and fire employees for using social media in a way that their employers believe reflects poorly on the university.
And in criticizing the working group’s proposals, the Regents only added insult to the injury inflicted by the initial policy.