Kansas Board of Regents Revokes Right to Freedom of Speech

Kansas Board of RegentsAs faculty grade their last student papers and exams before leaving town for the Christmas holidays, the Kansas Board of Regents quietly — and unanimously — voted to revoke their academic freedom and basic right to freedom of speech.  As the Lawrence Journal-World reports this evening, “The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a policy that would allow the firing of university employees if they communicated through social media in a way that aversely [sic] affects the school.”

According to the new policy, “improper use of social media” includes any “communication through social media that”:

“ii. when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interest of the university”

“iv. subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.”

“In determining whether the employee’s communication constitutes an improper use of social media under paragraph (iv), the chief executive officer shall balance the interest of the university in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern, and may consider the employee’s position within the university and whether the employee used or publicized the university name, brands, website, official title or school/department/college or otherwise created the appearance of the communication being endorsed, approved or connected to the university in a manner that discredits the university.  The chief executive officer may also consider whether the communication was made during the employee’s working hours or the communication was transmitted utilizing university systems or equipment.  This policy on improper use of social media shall apply prospectively from its date of adoption by the Kansas Board of Regents.”

In essence, anything can be grounds for firing. And the Board of Regents has defined social media very, very broadly:

 “Social media” means any facility for online publication and commentary, including but not limited to blogs, wikis, and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.

So, for example, if the university decides that this blog post is “improper use of social media,” it can fire me.  Posting a link to this blog post via Twitter and Facebook (which I will do as soon as I finish writing it) could, if deemed “improper use of social media,” also be grounds for firing me.  (I hope GooglePlus and Academia.Edu do not feel slighted by the Regents’ omission, but rest assured that I’ll push this link out via those means as well.)

I understand why the Kansas Board of Regents would want to encourage responsible use of social media.  However, I find it harder to understand how a body that oversees an educational system designed to foster free and open exchanges of ideas would seek to impede free and open exchanges of ideas. I also wonder how it expects to enforce a policy that violates the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”  I suppose the fact that a state has far deeper pockets than any individual does will be the Board of Regents’ strongest means of enforcement.

At any rate, if you also find this decision troubling, you might let the Board of Regents know.  The telephone number is 785-296-3421.  Here is the contact information for Fred Logan (Chair of the Board of Regents), and contact information for all ten members of the Board of Regents.

Further information (updated 10 Apr. 2014, 3:40 pm, CST):

15 Comments »

  1. Dear Kansas Board of Regents » Duck of Minerva Said,

    December 19, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    […] As Philip Nel – a K-State English professor I actually took a class with in 2000 – wrote in his blog (also cited in the Inside Higher Ed […]

  2. Will Said,

    December 19, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

    “I understand why the Kansas Board of Regents would want to encourage responsible use of social media. However, I find it harder to understand how a body that oversees an educational system designed to foster free and open exchanges of ideas would seek to impede free and open exchanges of ideas.”

    That’s not hard to understand. “The Kansas Board of Regents is comprised of nine members, each of whom is appointed by the Governor of Kansas.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but there is nothing in the record of Gov. Brownback to indicate he has any interest at all in the “free and open exchange of ideas”

  3. Cary Nelson Said,

    December 19, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    With this policy, both academic freedom and tenure have been eviscerated in Kansas. It sets a precedent that endanger high education throughout the country.
    Cary Nelson, AAUP president 2006-2012

  4. Chris Remple Said,

    December 19, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

    Let’s be clear that this is the BoR’s shot across the bow. It represents what they would like. Not having to deal with those pesky issues like free speech or tenure or union rights sounds pretty good to them. But the record in this country is that we who use and benefit from these rights tend to guard them jealously. Let’s not give them what they have not yet taken. Until we fight to defend these rights their opening salvo is just that. I’m not downplaying the attack that their vote represents. I’m just advocating we do something to defend ourselves. In the course of doing that, we will see how much of a fight this will turn out to be.

  5. Lee Kottner Said,

    December 19, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

    I would get in touch with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (http://thefire.org/) and the AAUP about this. FIRE has a history of successfully challenging similar policies, and AAUP can at least censure and embarrass them. Accreditation might also be an issue if this policy remains in effect.

  6. Bill McCann Said,

    December 19, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

    This is so pathetic. Can’t these clowns read what they are saying? They are an embarrassment to their fellow Americans.

  7. Steve Heller Said,

    December 20, 2013 @ 7:42 am

    There’s no place like what used to be home. Keep fighting the good fight, Phil.

  8. Gwendolyn Bradley Said,

    December 20, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

    FYI, the American Association of University Professors has issued a statement condemning the new policy: http://www.aaup.org/news/social-media-policy-violates-academic-freedom.

  9. M-I-Z Said,

    December 20, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

    Can I just call and thank them for yet another reason to mock kansas “educaton”?

  10. Chicago State tries to shut down faculty blog (and Time for End of Year Break) | Computing Education Blog Said,

    December 21, 2013 @ 12:23 am

    […] of respect for academic freedom here is disappointing, but not uncommon.  More shocking is the Kansas Board of Regents decision that faculty can be fired for saying things in social media “contrary to the best interest of […]

  11. The Tyranny of the Brand | Daily Queer News Said,

    December 21, 2013 @ 2:36 am

    […] my favorite left-wing left-winger passes along another story from within this rapidly expanding gray […]

  12. Harvey Foyle Said,

    December 21, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

    As a long time tenured full Professor at Emporia State University (Kansas) and a 46 year resident of Kansas, I am utterly appalled at this attempt to abridge anyone’s freedom of speech. With the current political atmosphere in Kansas, I am hard pressed to recommend to anyone that he/she should seek employment in Kansas, and now especially in the university system. Historically, Kansas has been the place to move to if you had differing points of view – think about all of the people who immigrated to Kansas and founded our state.

  13. Solstice Reading: Robot Telemarketers, That McDonald’s Lawsuit, Stupid Kansas, and More! | Orange Juice Blog Said,

    December 21, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

    […] Kansas Board of Regents Revokes Right to Freedom of Speech […]

  14. Four (and a half?) thoughts on “social media” and academics– about Kansas and generally | stevendkrause.com Said,

    January 1, 2014 @ 10:59 am

    […] Nel’s blog, “Nine Kinds of Pie.” Specifically, you might want to check out this collection of links, which he says he’s going to keep updating. Nel is a professor at Kansas State who has been […]

  15. Weekly Roundup – Happy New Year Edition | The Bubble Chamber Said,

    January 3, 2014 @ 2:20 pm

    […] freedom of speech; reflexively, KSU English professor Philip Nel pointed out that even his blogging about the situation could be construed as grounds for […]

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