Kansas Board of Regents committee approves revised social media policy

— A committee of the Kansas Board of Regents on Tuesday approved a social media policy that would allow a university leader to fire a faculty member or staff member who violates the policy with an improper tweet or Facebook post.

The unanimous vote by the Governance Committee was made despite an overwhelming display of opposition from people who commented on the policy during an earlier public comment period.

But Regents Chairman Fred Logan said the committee made some changes to the proposed policy in response to the public comment.

He said the revised policy, which will next go to the full regents for a vote on May 14, includes strong “support of academic freedom.”

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.

Many people said the proposal was too broad and would impede free speech on college campuses and produce a chilling effect on research and instruction, according to the comments obtained by the Lawrence Journal-World.

“What if a researcher tweets about the results of a study that some might perceive as opposed to the conservative values of the Kansas Legislature. Your policy leaves so much room for abuse,” wrote Carol Holstead, associate professor of the KU School of Journalism.

Kirk McClure, a professor in the Department of Urban Planning at Kansas University, said the ability for Kansas schools to compete for top faculty will be hindered by the policy.

“The social media policy makes it even harder to sell KU to top faculty candidates. A new faculty member can be disciplined, even terminated for a tweet,” McClure said.

Only a handful of the 172 people who submitted comments supported the proposed policy. One comment, whose name was redacted, said the policy supports the right of expression “as well as clarifies what the priorities of the policy are.” The names of people who commented on the Board of Regents website during the public comment period were redacted, while the names of those who sent comments directly to regents officials weren’t.

The regents’ social media policy was made in response to an anti-NRA tweet in September 2013 by KU journalism professor David Guth.

The tweet caused a national uproar over the bounds of social media.

Several months later, the regents adopted a policy that established disciplinary actions that school leaders could take for improper use of social media. But a backlash of criticism from free speech advocates prompted the regents to appoint a workgroup to provide revisions.

The governance committee earlier decided to add some of the workgroup’s recommendations that emphasized freedom of speech. But the committee members also said they wanted to keep the disciplinary portion of the policy.

Regents officials say the newest proposed policy will probably be available for public view on the regents website on Thursday.