The Kansas Board of Regents has decided to do what it should have done before pushing through an ill-considered policy governing the use of social media by state university faculty and staff members — but the board needs to go a step further.
In a brief press release on Tuesday, Regents Chairman Fred Logan said the regents would ask representatives of all the state’s universities to form a group to review and comment on a policy the board passed on Dec. 18 giving broad power to university heads to fire faculty and staff members who committed the poorly defined offense of improperly using social media.
Obviously, such a group should have been consulted BEFORE the regents approved its policy, but the fact that it is being formed now, is a tacit acknowledgement by the regents that their policy is flawed. The logical response to that recognition would be to withdraw the policy, not leave it in place, as regents have indicated they will do — at least until April, when the review group has been asked to present its recommendations.
University faculty and staff groups across the state were understandably upset by the policy, which was so broad that it could interfere with free speech rights and academic freedom protections. That, in turn, could have a devastating effect on universities’ ability to retain and recruit top faculty members. Faculty and staff leaders are pleased that the regents are willing to take another look at the policy, but they likely would be more comfortable if the policy was withdrawn until that review is completed.
The social media policy apparently was prompted by the case of KU journalism professor David Guth, whose tweet about shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., drew considerable criticism from a few state legislators. The timing of the new policy — and the lack of process and consideration leading up to it — seem to indicate that regents were more concerned about responding to legislators’ concerns than crafting a policy that would be helpful and/or acceptable for state universities.
University CEOs aren’t likely to start enforcing the new policy before the review is complete, but to eliminate any possibility that the policy could be misused between now and April, the Board of Regents should set it aside until university representatives have an opportunity to weigh in.