Changes recommended to social media policy

Editor-in-Chief

After four months of discussion and collecting feedback from public universities in Kansas, a recommendation to revise the Kansas Board of Regents’ five-month-old social media policy has been finalized. The revision protects academic speech and free speech rights under the First Amendment.

The report and recommended revisions were made by a workgroup of representatives of public Kansas universities. The workgroup was appointed by the Regents after the social media policy received criticism from universities. Wichita State’s faculty senate passed an endorsement to suspend the policy in January.

“I’m very proud of the work we’ve accomplished,” Victoria Mosack said. “There’s been a lot of work and discussion.” Mosack is the faculty senate president at Wichita State and helped represent WSU in the workgroup.

The social media policy was passed by the Regents, the governing board of public Kansas universities, in December. The current controversial policy gives universities the power to discipline faculty and staff for “improper use” of social media, including language that “is not in the best interest of the university.”

The report said many members of the work group didn’t think the social media policy should exist at all.

Much of the report sought to “explain and support” the recommended revisions defended faculty and staff’s right to free speech under the First Amendment, academic freedom and Supreme Court cases. The original policy used language from Supreme Court cases, which the report also uses to rationalize the recommendations.

Though one case, Garcetti v. Ceballos, applies free speech restrictions to those in public office, the report pointed out that the case was never extended to higher education.

The report emphasized academic responsibility that comes with academic freedom.

 “Academic freedom has never meant that faculty and staff teachers may say or write anything they want without concern for sanction … ” it reads. The report later states that the controversy of ideas and responses to them “have no legitimate places in deciding whether the speaker or writer should be sanctioned.”

The report reinforced the criticism that the policy will stifle academic pursuits and debates, such as criticism of a dean’s decisions on campus, a politically controversial blog post, or even a scientific publication that “arouses a powerful interest group campaign to reduce legislative funding.”

The workgroup indicates that some of the language is vague and needs to be more narrowly defined.

The workgroup found the section that instructs the “chief executive officer” in determining whether social media is subject to disciplinary action is unnecessary.

“The exercise of judgment is an integral part of the authority and rights of a university as an employer,” the revision reads.

It agrees that language that “incites violence” and discloses confidential student information falls under “improper use” of social media. However, the workgroup recommended that each university create its own set of social media guidelines.

“We want to encourage student and faculty and staff use of social media,” Mosack said, “but we want them to do it in a responsible way, particularly if they’re an employee of the university.”

The report and recommendations will be presented to the Regents next week. The finalized document can be read at http://bit.ly/1esppwX.

“Regardless of the tone of any social media policy, nothing will ever work,” the report reads, “much less be accepted — unless the language in the policy is both respectful and reliant on individual responsibility.”