The Joint Council of Kansas Distinguished Professors met Sunday afternoon at Kansas University to debate what action the organization should take relative to the social media policy put together by the Kansas Board of Regents. These professors represent the cream of the crop in the academic world at KU, Kansas State University and Wichita State University.
They do not like the regents policy, which gives the chancellor and presidents the right to suspend or fire employees who, in their judgment, have used social media in a way that conflicts with the best interests of the university.
The regents are expected to announce a revised policy later this week, and those at Sunday’s meeting wanted to know what action the distinguished professors organization should take to make clear its unhappiness — rather, anger and fear — over what the regents are likely to say about giving disciplinary authority to the presidents and chancellor.
Those at the meeting didn’t pull any punches. Some urged a measured response, while others went so far as to say Regents Chairman Fred Logan should be fired. One said Logan, as chairman of the regents, should know something about higher education and that he doesn’t. That particular speaker added that the individuals on the board have no business serving as regents.
Logan clearly was the target, and little good was said about him or the other regents. In fact, it was close to being ugly, but it showed the frustration and deep concern over efforts to curb academic freedom and freedom of speech. The Sunday discussion offers a perfect example of what a university should be — a place where different ideas, some of which are uncomfortable, can be debated and argued.
Some wanted a vote of “no confidence” in the regents, while others suggested actions that would attract attention and signify their deep anger. At times, it seemed as if some might be trying to make a name for themselves rather than coming up with a sound, positive plan.
Fortunately, cooler heads cautioned against extreme actions, saying it would be a mistake to call for a rejection of the regents. Still others responded by saying Kansas professors’ reputations are at stake nationally and internationally, that “we must not be silent” and they should reject any idea or signal that they “are backing off.”
What needs to be done is for the professors and regents to work together to hammer out a social media policy that addresses today’s environment. “Social media” covers every means of communication, communication that is almost instant. Times change, social media changes. No one wants to gag or muzzle college professors, but common sense is important.
Why not have the distinguished professors and the regents come up with a policy that meets the concerns of all parties and could serve as a model for other public colleges? Have Kansas be a leader rather than a follower.
Harsh, damaging words, threats, personal attacks are not going to be productive. They might attract attention, but they don’t offer positive solutions.
Academic freedom is terribly important, as is freedom of expression. The public should understand universities are the place of new ideas, differing ideas, sometimes troubling ideas.
It’s good that no vote was taken at the Sunday meeting drawing a line in the sand about what would or would not be acceptable in a social media policy.
It’s time for professors and the regents to get together in a congenial environment, with each side recognizing the role and importance of all parties, and develop a policy that places Kansas and its state universities as a national leader on social media in today’s world.
Name-calling will not get the job done.