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Archive for Friday, April 4, 2014

Social media policy group mulling likely reaction from regents

April 4, 2014

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— After mulling public comments, the work group reviewing the Kansas Board of Regents current social media policy made final changes Friday to a proposed replacement policy that they will take to the regents later this month.

The group made only minor tweaks to its recommended policy at a meeting at Emporia State University, but members continued discussion of some of the larger background issues looming over their work.

The group will present recommendations to the regents on April 16.

In March the group, made up of faculty and staff from state universities, removed the punitive language of the regents original policy in favor of a rewrite that adopted a strictly advisory role. After approving the recommendation, the group made the proposal public and invited comment from faculty, staff, students and others.

The regents current policy allows university presidents and chancellors to suspend or fire employees for social media posts that conflict with the university's best interests, impair workplace harmony or prevent the university from efficiently providing services, among other violations.

Melissa Hunsicker-Walburn, an assistant professor of informatics at Fort Hays State University, said she had heard concern from her campus that the regents won't accept their recommendations without some mention of disciplinary action for social media violations.

The palatability of the policy proposal among regents was a theme brought up at last month's meeting, as well as by faculty and staff at university campuses. During the period of review, the regents have declined numerous requests from faculty, staff and students to suspend the current policy. Some have worried the regents won't adopt a replacement that strays too far from the original.

But most group members reported the comments from their respective campuses have been overwhelmingly positive in favor of what the group produced. Co-chairman Chuck Epp, a KU professor of public affairs and administration, said he had received more than 100 comments from the KU campus, the vast majority of which were positive.

Most of the critical comments came from those who said the regents shouldn't have any policy on social media at all, Epp said.

Some in the group also worried that the recommended policy could inadvertently add burdens on the speech of university employees. Max McCoy, an assistant professor of journalism at Emporia State, said he was worried about a "chilling effect" from quoting in the proposal a 1940 statement from the American Association of University Professors addressing the balance between scholarly freedom and responsibilities.

The statement stipulates that when making public "utterances," professors "should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution."

McCoy said he worried including the sentence could be used as a "tool" to limit speech. But others in the group said they had heard from faculty and staff who approved of the inclusion of the AAUP statement. The group decided to keep it.

The regents passed the current policy after KU journalism professor David Guth's anti-NRA post on Twitter sparked a national uproar and calls from some state lawmakers for Guth to be fired.

After passing it unanimously in December, the regents announced they would review the policy in response to widespread criticism that it was too broad and could restrain free speech and academic freedom. The regents established the work group to study the policy and make recommendations for changes.

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