Archive for Thursday, December 19, 2013

University employees: New social media policy is broad, vague and “chilling”

December 19, 2013


Contact KU and higher ed reporter Sara Shepherd
Have a tip or story idea?
More stories

After the Kansas Board of Regents approved a new policy Wednesday that allows state university CEOs to fire employees for social media posts that conflict with the interest of their schools, faculty members and university employees around the state have been scrambling to understand what the policy means for them, and to respond to it.

Many took to social media to express their views.

A new Facebook group called "Kansas Universities Faculty & Staff Against Regents' Speech Policy" had already garnered more than 280 likes by 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

On his Facebook page, Burdett Loomis, a Kansas University professor of political science, called the new policy "unbelievably broad and vague" and said he felt a "chill" in response to the "ill-considered and expansive provisions" in the policy. The post drew more than 30 comments, including some from Kansas Regent Ed McKechnie, who disputed the "broad and vague description."

Many other KU faculty members have already expressed dismay. Ron Barnett-Gonzalez, a KU associate professor of aerospace engineering and the state conference president of the American Association of University Professors, said the new policy was "fraught with potential for abuse."

Barnett-Gonzalez also said he worried that it could prevent professors from making critical statements against university and state officials and that it could hurt KU's ability to recruit talented faculty. By this morning he had already received what he estimated to be 80 to 90 emails from concerned colleagues at other institutions.

Students, too, were voicing concerns about the policy on social media. KU student body president Marcus Tetwiler said he had seen several posts on Facebook from students holding jobs with the university who worried that they could now be fired for their social media posts.

Tetwiler surmised he himself might be liable for his social media posts under the policy given his position within the university organization. "I hope that students, faculty and staff, and all our critical thinkers, are not afraid of this policy," he said. "I hope they speak up and keep doing their jobs."

Response to Guth's tweet

Passed yesterday partly as a response to KU professor David Guth's anti-NRA tweet in September that angered many across the country, the policy gives the chief executive officer of a state university the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media. Improper use of social media is defined by the Regents as language that:

— Directly incites violence or other immediate breach of the peace;

— Is made pursuant to the employee’s official duties and is contrary to the best interests of the university;

— Discloses confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data; or

— Impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.

KU Faculty Senate President Christopher Steadham said in an email that he had "not heard from a single faculty member expressing support of the new social media policy." He added that many were concerned about what sorts of communication might be considered against the "best interests" of the university or its ability to "efficiently" provide services, as the policy states.

Officials said they expected passage of the policy would produce a lot of discussion.

"I expect that there will be expressions of concern in the community about it and that we will have some further discussions about it, and perhaps there will be further discussions here (at the regents) about it as well," said KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said.

Voicing support

Fort Hays State University President Ed Hammond said he supported the new policy because it is based on U.S. Supreme Court decisions around freedom of speech, and it leaves the call on whether to discipline an employee with the chief executive of the university.

"I feel comfortable with what the board did," said Hammond, who has been president at FHSU for 28 years. He said university leaders rely on their legal counsel if there is a question about whether an employee has engaged in protected speech or has crossed the line, and that will continue.

Regents Chairman Fred Logan said he will be willing to talk with groups about it. "This will obviously trigger some conversations on campuses. I think it is quite likely we are all going to learn something through this," he said.

After the Guth incident, several powerful legislators called on KU to fire the professor. But Logan said he felt no pressure from legislators to institute the new policy. "There were a lot of legislations who have spoken out, but my goal was to come up with a very narrowly drawn policy that would recognize First Amendment rights but also address the responsibility of the university employees to their employer," Logan said.

State Rep. Brett Hildabrand, R-Shawnee, who had said Guth should have been fired, said he supported the regents policy. "I support free speech 100 percent, but there can be consequences for your words," he said. "Universities need the flexibility to address the actions of staff that tarnish their institution's image," he said.


Phil Minkin 4 years, 4 months ago

It's sad to say, but free speech, like privacy, may be a 20th century idea that we wistfully look back at.

Brock Masters 4 years, 4 months ago

People don't understand free speech. Our right to free speech only protects us from the government infringing upon that right.

People and businesses can censor and retaliate based on speech.

Come in my home and start ranting about something I don't like and I can make you leave.

Work at my business and voice views I find offensive and I can fire you. Just ask Phil from Duck Dynasty. He had a right to say what he did, but A&e had a right to suspend him

We have a right to free speech but there are consequences to that speech. This is why an anonymous speech, from the beginning of this country to today, has been necessary.

William Enick 4 years, 4 months ago

One cannot be anonymous on face book & most other sites where "speech" is involved. Were going to have to go through an organization that can vet who we are to establish credibility so that are names can remain the group Anonymous..." We Are Anonymous...We Are Legion...We Do Not Forgive...We Do Not Forget...We Are Everywhere...Expect us.

Richard W. Symonds 4 years, 4 months ago

"If you don't believe in freedom of speech for views you despise, you don't believe in freedom of speech"

~ Noam Chomsky

Amy Varoli Elliott 4 years, 4 months ago

he was working for A&E when he choose to spew his hate for a segment of the population, so he was suspended, if you go to your job and start doing the same thing you will probably be suspended too. That in no way is the same as the State telling its employees that as no point on or off the job, they are allowed to express their oppionons or any views that are not in line with the States,

George Laughead 4 years, 4 months ago

in a state where the chief CEO owes his powers to the tea party of Koch Brothers LLC LTD Inc. -- and where first amendment rights are second to second amendment rights and the NRA Gun Lobby -- this was expected. That no one voted against it only means that all of the new appointments were from the Brownback rightwing nut branch of the GOP. (Or not as One of them Sez). Lawyers and courts and costs coming up. The Lawyers on the Regents love that -- of course.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 4 months ago

Simply because one expresses an opinion as an individual and in no way representing an employer should not be reason to terminate anyone.

Employees are hired based on credentials and remain on staff based on work performance NOT on their life off the clock and their freedom to express opinions.

This BS got legs from Kansas legislators who I believe are abusing their positions and who spoke representing themselves as elected officials. These are the people who should be called upon to resign.

Implying that employees have no right to opinions off the clock and can be fired as a result is beyond reality. Fire the government that either supports or enforces such a policy!

Beator 4 years, 4 months ago

The Duck Dynasty dude got fired by his employer for what he said. Why can't employees of a government employer get fired for what they say? At least the government employer is giving you a heads-up on what you can say that will not get you sacked.

Seth Peterson 4 years, 4 months ago

He didn't get fired - let's be clear he is part owner of the company. He still owns part of the company, he will have zero financial recourse from this as the show will still be featured on A&E with full financial benefits, he just won't be shown.

Beator 4 years, 4 months ago

A&E symbolically sacked the guy to keep GLAAD off their backs. As you say, the show will be aired, marathon aired btw, and revenues from advertisers will be made. There will probably me more viewers for the upcoming already filmed episodes. I suspect, A&E will be walking back their decision in coming months during negotiation with the family for future episodes.

Seth Peterson 4 years, 4 months ago

Being symbolically sacked is a far cry from being "fired from his employer" - you are correct on the rest, I just thought it should pointed out your original comment doesn't have much bearing on the rest of this discussion and the circumstances are wildly different.

Bob Smith 4 years, 4 months ago

"... broad, vague and “chilling”..." Kinda like the attempted government takeover of the healthcare industry.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 4 months ago

Here you go, Bob. Wait. I am not saying that is you. Misunderstandings do abound on here. Just remember, this too shall pass.

Mike Riner 4 years, 4 months ago

Easy solution to this problem. When at work, work. Don't be on facebook or twitter. End of problem. And if you need to be on social media as part of your job, don't say anything that will embarrass your employer. Simple really.

Sam Crow 4 years, 4 months ago

For you people claiming first amendment here, you couldn’t be more wrong. It states “Congress shall make no law……” The university nor the Board of Regents are obviously not congress, but rather employers.

As an employee of a Fortune 100 company, I can assure you that every large company has a similar policy for its employees.

The arrogance of the university community has always astounded me. For professors to insist that they exist outside the circle and can therefore exempt themselves from rules within the circle, based on the vague concept of “academic freedom” is ridiculous.

That arrogance is multiplied by the fact they want to define it any way that benefits them.

Like the real world, if you dont like the common work rules, go somewhere else.

Sam Crow 4 years, 4 months ago

Oh , I read it Babs. It is from a publication by academia for academia. They are preaching to the choir. And you are singing the song.

Doug Weston 4 years, 4 months ago

Try a century and a half of case law that has repeatedly held that state and local governments are bound by the Constitution just as the Federal government is. How's that for a source.

Larry Sturm 4 years, 4 months ago

Maybe they should take it court to see if it is constitutional.

Sam Crow 4 years, 4 months ago

Just because you disagree doesnt mean its unconstitutional.

Doug Weston 4 years, 4 months ago

You're right. What makes it unconstitutional is the ambiguous language that makes it impossible for a reasonable person to determine what language will or will not violate the policy.

Larry Sturm 4 years, 4 months ago

For people who are supposed to be smart they sure didn't work on this social media language very long to see if it was constitutional.

Mike Ford 4 years, 4 months ago

I've noticed about five posting names on here that are totally made up. why go after academics like guth who used their real name when some of you won't do it on here?

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 4 months ago

So, am I the only one that was shocked and horrified when Guth wrote that he wished that the children of NRA members be shot?

Even if we have our privacy settings on Twitter set so that only family and close friends can read them, they can retweet to others.

Just think of how many places on the Internet have your e-mail address, and other information. Every comment you make on here can be found on Google and will be on there forever.

Doug Weston 4 years, 4 months ago

No, you're not. Most will agree that Guth did something stupid. He has admitted it was stupid. He was trying to make a point that required finesse in a medium that only allows 140 characters or less. But, he was doing so as a private citizen---something the First Amendment allows him to do. It was stupid and clumsy of him. But now, the Regents have reacted by being stupid and clumsy themselves.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.