Kansas State University president Kirk Schulz and a large group of the school’s faculty have fired back at the Kansas Board of Regents’ new policy regarding use of social media.
The regents recently gave university presidents the right to suspend, censure or fire anyone – tenured or not – that posts a message that is considered “contrary to the best interests of the university” or might disturb “harmony among coworkers.”
Reaction has been almost unanimous condemnation from academics across the nation, and individual faculty members in Kansas have been publicly critical of the policy – but on Monday, Schulz lent his considerable clout to the discussion.
In a letter to K-State faculty, staff and students, Schulz described the policy in harsh terms.
“This new policy has garnered national attention for Kansas high education and has resulted in numerous negative editorials in national higher education circles,” Schulz said of the regents’ edict.
“As presently written, many members of the K-State family feel the policy seriously curtails both academic freedom and free speech.
“One of the fundamental founding principles of higher education in this country is the ability for faculty to speak out on controversial issues without fear of retribution.
“This principle must be preserved.”
Schulz indicated he hoped to work other Kansas university administrators to get the social media situation revised to something considerably less onerous.
“When the Kansas Board of Regents voted this policy into place, they made it clear we need to continue a broad-based conversation on social media with all constituent groups.
“It is my intention to work closely with KU Chancellor (Bernadette) Gray-Little and the other presidents in collaboration with the Kansas Board of Regents on modification of the policy to one that is acceptable to all in the Kansas high education community.”
While Schulz became the first university president in the state to express dissatisfaction with the social media restrictions, there has – as Schulz noted – been a chorus of complaints from faculty members throughout Kansas.
More than 40 K-State professors signed a letter addressed to the regents, calling for the policy to scrapped immediately.
“By revoking the faculty and staff’s right to freedom of speech,” the letter said, “the new social media policfy is an affront to academic freedom and academic excellence.”
The Kansas conference of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) urged the regents to withdraw the policy “…before any more reputational damage is done to the state’s otherwise excellent regent institutions.”
On a national level, the AAUP released a statement calling Kansas’ new social media restrictions a “gross violation of the fundamental principles of academic freedom that have been the cornerstone of American higher education for nearly a century.”
Meanwhile, Board of Regents chairman Fred Logan, while defending the constitutionality of the policy, seemed to agree that more discussion on actual implementation might be necessary.
“Any policy that the board adopts is always subject to additional conversation,” Logan said as the firestorm from Kansas’ six universities apparently was blowing strongly back at his group.
Schulz apparently is willing to keep things civil, at least for the time being.
“Through all of this, it will be important to remember that the Board of Regents is part of the Kansas higher education family,” he said.
“Disagreements are part of almost any family, but at the end of the day we always find ways to resolve our differences.”