Opinion: KSU prof weighs in on social media policy

On New Year’s Eve, the Kansas Board of Regents announced that they would be accepting “recommendations for amendments” to their new social media policy until April. While their decision to involve “representatives from each state university” is a welcome change (they passed the policy without consulting any faculty, staff or administration), “amending” this ill-conceived policy is a bit like hiring an architect after you’ve already built the house.

It also means that the Spring 2014 semester begins under a cloud of unease. Faculty and staff at Kansas universities can still be fired for saying anything “contrary to the best interest of the university” or that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers.” In other words, until further notice, we:

1) No longer have freedom of speech.

2) No longer have the academic freedom required to do our jobs.

3) No longer have tenure.

One wonders if the Board of Regents has read its own mission statement, which says the regents’ job is to “advocate powerfully” for “continuous improvement in the quality and effectiveness of the public postsecondary educational system in Kansas.” Instead of advocating for its quality and effectiveness, the regents have dealt it a severe handicap. How can Kansas universities recruit top-tier faculty to work at a place that lacks academic freedom? Indeed, why would faculty want to teach here at all? How can we teach, if we lack the ability to debate controversial ideas?

This new social media policy creates an anxiety that stifles free expression. When any speech can be grounds for firing, we speak less openly, and, eventually, we perform this self-censoring unconsciously. The new social media policy creates what William Blake called “mind-forged manacles:”: We teach ourselves to suppress thoughts and ideas because we fear the consequences of expressing them. If we must suppressing thoughts and ideas, we cannot do our jobs.

This is not acceptable. The Board of Regents needs to repeal (or at least suspend implementation of) its original policy, and work with the workgroups it has proposed in order to craft a sensible policy that supports higher education in Kansas.