Working group studying regents’ social media policy will write its own version

? A group charged with recommending changes to the Kansas Board of Regents’ controversial policy on the improper use of social media has decided to disregard that policy and instead compose its own proposal.

“Let’s just start from scratch,” said Kevin Johnson, general counsel at Emporia State University, co-chair of the social media working group, which held its first meeting Friday.

He said the group should ignore the current policy and recommend one “that we would like to work under.” The group will then present its recommendation to the regents by April 16.

Co-chair Charles Epp, who is a professor in the School of Public Affairs at Kansas University, said he thought the charge of the regents to the committee was to “give us your best thinking on this topic.”

For now, the current policy approved by regents remains in effect for the state’s public universities.

On Dec. 18, the regents unanimously adopted a policy that allows university heads to fire faculty and staff for improper use of social media, which includes posting messages that conflicted with the best interests of the school.

The policy prompted widespread criticism that it is too vague and restricts free speech rights. The regents then decided to form a working group of university representatives to review the policy and suggest changes.

On Friday, Max McCoy, a journalism professor at ESU, said the regents should suspend the current policy while the group conducts its business.

But the regents have already rejected that request once, and Regents Chief Executive Officer and President Andy Tompkins told McCoy, “They are not planning to do that.”

The working group hopes to have a preliminary policy by March 12 and then accept public comment on it.

Julia Keen, an associate professor at Kansas State University and president of the Faculty Senate, expressed two concerns — that the social media policy currently in place could dampen public comment from faculty and staff, and that someone would be tempted “to test the existing policy” to force a legal challenge.

The group’s next meeting will be held at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 1 at ESU. Group members are inviting First Amendment experts, including KU law professor Richard Levy, to talk to them.

Johnson acknowledged that many are watching what kind of policy the group produces. “At least within higher education, it is going to get nationwide attention,” he said.

The regents enacted the social media policy after public uproar last year over an anti-NRA tweet from KU journalism professor David Guth.