Higher ed social media policy rewrite gets warm reception from faculty and staff

Faculty and staff at Kansas universities are weighing in on the draft of a rewritten and repurposed social media policy that will go before the Kansas Board of Regents in April.

The proposal came out of a work group created by the regents after a social media policy passed by the regents in December was viewed by some as an affront to academic freedom and free speech. So far, the new proposal has received wide praise from university employees.

“The comments are running overwhelmingly in favor of the proposed language,” said Chuck Epp, co-chairman of the work group and a Kansas University professor of public affairs. “People are quite pleased with it.”

The group’s proposal represents a significant shift from the regents current policy, which allows university CEOs to suspend or fire employees for improper social media use. The revision dispenses with the disciplinary function and language of the original and instead takes an advisory role on responsible social media use.

Soon after approving the policy last week, the group made it public and created channels for electronic comment through each regents university. Epp said one word keeps popping up in the comments he has read: “reasonable.”

The work group itself has no power to pass a policy. That authority rests solely with the regents. Epp has said publicly that he is cautiously optimistic that the regents will accept the group’s recommendation.

Philip Nel, a Kansas State distinguished professor of English who has been a vocal critic of the current policy, said of the work group’s version, “It begins and ends by affirming academic freedom.”

“This is a chance for us to be at the forefront for a thoughtful, responsible social media policy that could be a model for others to follow,” he said.

KU Faculty Senate President Chris Steadham called the draft “a vast improvement over the existing policy,” saying it protects free speech and academic freedom while also providing guidelines for responsible conduct.

KU education professor Susan Twombly said the work group’s guidelines are “entirely appropriate,” but she worries about the regents “digging in their heels” when they see the draft because it looks so different from the original.

So far KU administrators and the regents have been quiet on the draft. KU spokesman Jack Martin said the chancellor and provost won’t comment for now because they believe “it’s important to let faculty and staff have their feedback and let the process play out.”

Breeze Richardson, a spokeswoman for the regents, said the regents also wanted to let campuses weigh in first and felt it would be more appropriate “to wait until the recommendations are received in April to comment.”

As currently written, the regents’ social media policy allows university leaders to suspend and fire employees for social media posts that impair discipline or create disharmony at the university, or that conflict with the best interest of the university and its ability to perform services, among other violations.

After passing the policy unanimously in December, the regents announced they would review it in response to widespread criticism that it was too broad and could restrain free speech and academic freedom.

The regents established the work group in January to study the policy and make recommendations to the board by April.

The policy was written after KU journalism professor David Guth’s anti-NRA post on Twitter sparked an uproar as well as calls from some state lawmakers for Guth to be fired.