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A new draft of the social media policy for Kansas universities is being met with uncertainty and ambivalence among faculty and staff, who still worry about the policy quieting speech in the state's higher education institutions.
With the Kansas Board of Regents set to vote on the policy next month, the regents released the draft this week for public comment.
The draft includes language produced by a work group the regents created to review the policy. It requires the policy be consistent with free speech laws and academic freedom when applied, and it excludes activities related to research, teaching and governance from the policy.
The new draft also contains most of the original policy's language, which allows university CEOs to suspend and fire employees for social media posts that conflict with a university's best interests or its ability to efficiently provide services, among other violations. The work group's proposal, which it presented to the regents earlier in April, took on a strictly advisory role.
"There are some statements at the start in favor of academic freedom and free speech rights, and that is all very good," said Chuck Epp, a Kansas University professor of public affairs and administration and co-chairman of the social media policy work group. "In the end it's a kind of mixed, hybrid policy that sends a really mixed message."
Epp added that he was concerned about what the policy would mean in application and the message it sends to faculty and staff. "We're not really sure what is protected there and what is not," he said.
Rick Levy, a KU distinguished professor of law who consulted with the work group as a neutral legal expert, said the new language referencing free speech and academic freedom amount to a directive to interpret the policy in a way that's consistent with First Amendment protections.
"But ultimately, the standards are fairly open-ended and require the exercise of judgment," Levy said. He added that the protected areas of research, teaching and governance are not necessarily firmly drawn categories. "In those gray areas, people are likely to self-censor, and that might still be a problem," he said.
Mike Krings, a KU public affairs officer and head of the Unclassified Senate, which represents much of KU's staff, said, "What has been added does not address what has been the biggest concern" among staff members, which were the policy's vagueness and its authorization for university leaders to discipline employees for social media posts.
The Kansas Conference of the American Association of University Professors issued a statement Wednesday expressing disappointment that the regents rejected the "well-balanced and reasoned" draft policy produced by the work group and retained the disciplinary language of the original.
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. The policy was passed after KU journalism professor David Guth's anti-NRA tweet stirred a national and state-level controversy.
To comment on the policy, go to http://www.kansasregents.org/recommended_amendments_to_current_social_media_policy