Kansas regents push back at criticisms of social media policy

? Several Kansas Board of Regents members on Wednesday pushed back at accusations that their social media policy infringes on freedom of speech.

“It’s easy to make these accusations,” said Regent Tim Emert. “I don’t believe any of them have foundation,” he said.

Vice Chairman Kenny Wilk said “ditto.”

Chairman Fred Logan said, “Every member of this board is a strong advocate of the First Amendment and academic freedom.”

Their comments came after faculty and staff groups re-iterated their opposition to the social media policy, which allows university heads to suspend and fire employees for social media posts that conflict with the best interest of the university or its ability to perform services.

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.

The regents established a work group of faculty and staff from state universities to study the policy and make recommendations to the board by April.

But faculty and staff groups have repeatedly asked the regents to suspend the policy until the work group makes its findings.

On Wednesday, Sheryl Lidzy, chair of the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents and associate professor of communications at Emporia State University, relayed a resolution signed by faculty and staff groups at all Kansas regents universities and Johnson County Community College.

The resolution said the social media policy “poses a significant threat to the public higher education system.”

It states that the policy infringes on freedom of speech, conflicts with the essential principles of academic freedom, and harms the recruitment, retention and accreditation efforts of the regents institutions.

Emert, an attorney, said there was no proof of that.

“I’m a little offended by these accusations,” he said to Lidzy. He said every legal expert that has consulted with the regents has told them the policy is proper.

Wilk told Lidzy there was no proof that the policy harmed the public higher education system.

Chris Roberts, of Fort Hays State University, head of the Students’ Advisory Committee, told the regents that one of the major concerns among students is that they would fall under the policy if they worked for the school.

Roberts said he also has heard concerns that the chief executive officer of the university is “the judge and jury.” He said, “There should be some check and balance.”

Logan said he welcomed comments from students and that they needed to be engaged in the review process.