Regents approve social media policy; faculty, staff attend meeting to urge rejection

? The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a social media policy that will allow a university leader to fire a faculty member or staff member for posting messages on social media that are “contrary to the best interests of the employer.”

Regents Chairman Fred Logan said the policy strongly supported free speech.

But many faculty and staff have disagreed.

The regents’ unanimous vote came in the presence of more than two dozen protesters at the meeting, some wearing T-shirts that read “Committee for Harmony, Loyalty and Discipline.”

Phil Nel, an English professor at Kansas State University, said the shirts referred to the social media policy because, he said, to enforce the policy, schools will have to appoint committees to determine if posts on Twitter and Facebook and other sites are in compliance.

He said the policy will hurt Kansas’ ability to attract top faculty. “We already have a reputation of being anti-science; now we have a reputation of being anti-free speech,” he said. The Council of Faculty Senate Presidents issued another plea to reject the policy, saying it will have a chilling effect on free speech on college campuses and that no other state in the nation has a similar rule.

Regents’ approval of the policy followed months of controversy that started in September 2013 when KU journalism professor David Guth posted an anti-NRA tweet that caused a national uproar.

Several months later, after powerful Kansas legislators condemned Guth’s action, the regents adopted a policy that could lead to termination for improper use of social media. But a backlash of criticism from free speech advocates prompted the regents to appoint a work group of faculty and staff members from regents universities to recommend revisions to the policy.

That work group recommended that the policy be used as a guideline and not include disciplinary actions.

While the regents accepted many of the work group’s free speech statements, it stuck with the disciplinary portion of the policy.

Under the policy, improper use of social media could include speech that could incite violence, discloses confidential information or “is contrary to the best interests of the employer.” The chief executive officer of a university, or the CEO’s delegate, could make use of progressive discipline measures, including suspension, dismissal and termination. Under the policy, social media covers blogs and social networking sites.