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Archive for Friday, April 25, 2014

Kansas regents chairman questioned at KU on social media policy

April 25, 2014

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On the Kansas University campus there's something of a running joke these days: Faculty as a rule can't agree on much of anything. But they're in agreement on the Kansas Board of Regents social media policy. They don't like it.

On Friday as part of a regular tour of state universities, one of the authors and defenders of the policy, regents Chairman Fred Logan, fielded questions and comments from KU faculty and staff about the policy for more than an hour. Logan repeatedly defended the policy, saying it would not impair free speech or academic freedom, though many were concerned it would have a chilling affect.

The policy authorizes university leaders to fire or suspend employees if their social media posts conflict with the university's best interests and efficient operations, among other violations, with consideration given to the employee's First Amendment right to free speech.

The regents passed the policy unanimously in December, but created a work group of faculty and staff from state universities to review it this spring after the policy was met with widespread criticism.

Earlier in April, the work group submitted a proposal for a revised version that would have removed the disciplinary function of the policy and replaced it a strictly advisory policy. Logan and members of a regents committee said they would incorporate references to academic freedom and free speech protections from the group's recommendation, but they indicated they would keep the disciplinary function of the original policy.

Logan said the disciplinary language of the policy does not give university CEOs new authority. He added, "I think it's going to be a very, very, very rare occurrence" that the policy would be applied.

But many faculty who spoke at the meeting still weren't reassured. One of the central concerns around the policy is a potential chilling effect because it does not outline the kinds of speech that would apply. Since the regents passed the original version in December, many have said they thought it vague and overly broad.

"It has already taken effect," said KU Associate Professor of English Paul Outka, referring to the policy's chilling effects. "In the fact that faculty — and I think this is universal — don't feel they are protected."

On the whole the conversation was congenial, yet Logan was clear that the regents would not change the wording of the policy. He said it reflected current law and Supreme Court rulings on speech.

Several faculty members asked Logan for an example of the sort of social media post that would run afoul of the policy. Logan could think of none to offer, but he reiterated that he thought the policy would be rarely used at universities, and that it would not be a threat to free speech to either faculty or staff.

When it comes to faculty and staff expressing themselves on social media, he told them to "let it fly."

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