As 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.
- Kansas Board of Regents’ info. & the policy itself:
- Contact information for all ten members of the Kansas Board of Regents.
- Suspensions, Terminations, and Dismissals (b) Other. The Board of Regents’ new social media policy.
- Mary Jane Stankiewicz, “Board Recommends Workgroup to Review Policy,” Kansas Board of Regents, 31 Dec. 2013
- Breeze Richardson, “Workgroup Named to Create Recommendations Regarding Board Policy on Improper Use of Social Media,” Kansas Board of Regents, 17 Jan. 2014
- Scott Rothschild, “Regents pass social media policy in wake of Guth tweet,” Lawrence Journal-World, 18 Dec. 2013.
- “Kansas Board of Regents Agenda — social media policy,” Lawrence Journal-World, 18 Dec. 2013.
- Scott Jaschik, “Fireable Tweets,” Inside Higher Ed, 19 Dec. 2013.
- Charles Huckabee, “Kansas Board Says Universities Can Fire Employees for ‘Improper’ Tweets,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 19 Dec. 2013.
- William K. Black, “The Kansas Board of Regents (Casually) End Academic Freedom,” New Economic Perspectives, 19 Dec. 2013. “In both substance and dishonesty of presentation the Regents’ policy is literally Orwellian.”
- William K. Black, “The Kansas Board of Regents’ (Unintentional) Honesty about Academic Freedom,” New Economic Perspectives, 19 Dec. 2013. “The Regents have made clear that they want to crush academic freedom because they do not value it.”
- David Hudnall, “Just how bad is the Kansas Board of Regents’ new policy on professors and social media?” The Pitch, 19 Dec. 2013. ”A policy like this really undermines the university. Because if you’re a professor and you have two job offers, one from KU and one from the University of Texas, why go to Kansas, where they don’t value academic freedom?”
- Erik Voeten, “Kansas Board of Regents restricts free speech for academics,” Washington Post, 19 Dec. 2013.
- Ed Kazarian, “If I worked at Kansas University, this post might get me fired,” New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science, 18 Dec. 2013.
- Amanda Murdie, “Dear Kansas Board of Regents,” The Duck of Minerva, 19 Dec. 2013. ”I study human rights and am working on a paper with Victor Asal and Udi Sommer on how advocacy concerning LGBT rights influences the rights for sexual minorities to marry. This right is not in line with the Governor of the State of Kansas, Sam Brownback, who actually appoints your board. So, if I write a post about my current research, would that be against the ‘best interest of the university’?”
- Steve Saideman, “Quacking is Dangerous to Your Health?,” The Duck of Minerva, 19 Dec. 2013. “If this policy stays in place, will U of Kansas’s best and brightest exit to places where tenure still means something? I sure hope so.”
- Charles P. Pierce, “The Tyranny of the Brand,” Esquire: The Politics Blog, 19 Dec. 2013. “Does your job own your civil liberties when you’re off the clock?”
- Scott Rothschild & Ben Unglesbee, “New social media policy is broad, vague, and ‘chilling’” Lawrence Journal-World, 19 Dec. 2013.
- Stephen Koranda, “Kansas Board of Regents Passes Social Media Policy.” KCUR 89.3 FM. 19 Dec. 2013. ”‘In drafting the policy we’ve been very careful to protect the First Amendment rights of university employees, but also we’ve addressed the employee’s responsibility to universities,’ said Logan.” No, seriously: Fred Logan actually alleges that the social media policy protects First Amendment rights.
- Matt Reed, “A Lump of Coal for Kansas,” Inside Higher Ed, 19 Dec. 2013. “I can’t imagine how that would hold up in court. How do you measure harmony among co-workers? To the extent that you can, how do you prove causality? And what about when the ‘harmony’ is either forced — as it almost certainly would be under this policy — or, worse, a form of delusional groupthink? What if the groupthink involves, say, discrimination?”
- Brian Leiter, “Kansas Board of Regents does something foolish and unconstitutional,” Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog, 19 Dec. 2013.
- Lambert, “If this policy by the Kansas Board of Regents is allowed to stand, Kansas should lose its accreditation, since it will no longer be a university,” Corrente, 19 Dec. 2013. “This is Third World stuff. If the ‘Big Man’ doesn’t like what one of the villagers has to say, the villager has to STFU or worse.”
- “Kansas Board of Regents social media rules imperil free speech,” Kansas City Star, 20 Dec. 2013. ”In giving university leaders the authority to discipline or terminate even tenured professors for vague, subjective offenses, the regents have set up a chilling environment that runs contrary to the ideal of academic freedom.”
- American Association of University Professors, “Social Media Policy Violates Academic Freedom,” AAUP, 20 Dec, 2013. ” We urge the Regents to revisit this decision, to repeal this ill-advised policy, and to work with elected faculty representatives to develop a social media policy that protects both the legitimate interest of the university in security and efficiency as well as the paramount interest of faculty and students in the unfettered exchange of ideas and information.”
- Nick DeSantis, “AAUP Decries Social Media Policy in Kansas and Treatment of Colo. Scholar,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 Dec. 2013.
- Peter Schmidt, “Unfettered Academic Speech: Not in Kansas Anymore,” Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 Dec. 2013. “Joan E. Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, on Thursday called the policy overly vague and said it ‘is in all likelihood unconstitutional, if it is applied the way it could be applied.’”
- Susan Kruth, “FIRE, AAUP Express Alarm Over New Kansas Social Media Policy,” Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, 20 Dec. 2013.
- FIRE, the ACLU of Kansas, and the National Coalition Against Censorship have also sent a joint letter to the Kansas Board of Regents (pdf), 20 Dec. 2013.
- “Higher Education Is Not a Reality TV Show; or, How ‘Duck Dynasty’ Differs from the Kansas Board of Regents,” Nine Kinds of Pie, 20 Dec. 2013.
- Julia Keen, “Kansas State University Faculty Senate Responds to Kansas Board of Regents’ Social Media Policy,” 21 Dec. 2013.
- “Editorial: Curbing Speech,” Lawrence Journal-World, 22 Dec. 2013. “Whatever threat is posed by social media at state universities should be balanced against the threat of those universities becoming known as places that don’t tolerate the free flow of ideas among their faculty and staff. The possibility that the policy could affect universities’ ability to recruit and retain top faculty members seems like a reasonable concern.”
- “New Regents policy really bad idea,” Manhattan Mercury, 22 Dec. 2013. “It’s an anti-free speech manifesto that sounds like a pronouncement from the government of a banana republic. The Board of Regents truly should back up, take a deep breath, and decide on something that meets the needs of its great universities.”
- Rebecca Schuman, “The Brave New World of Academic Censorship: If you’re a professor in Kansas, better stay off the Internet,” Slate, 22 Dec. 2013. “any faculty who dares speak out on behalf of underpaid adjuncts and contingent faculty, or attempts to harness the power of social media to organize, certainly “impairs harmony among coworkers,” so you won’t see any labor activism in Kansas universities anytime soon. Hope you like your $22,000 a year, KU adjuncts, because now everyone has to keep their traps shut, or else.”
- Ben Unglesbee, “State and national groups call for repeal of regents’ social media policy,” Lawrence Journal-World, 23 Dec. 2013.
- Brad Cooper, “Critics challenge Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media policy,” Kansas City Star, 26 Dec. 2013.
- Barbara Shelly, “Social media policy from Kansas Board of Regents threatens free speech,” Kansas City Star, 26 Dec. 2013.
- Max McCoy, “Free Speech? Not in Kansas Anymore,” Emporia Gazette, 28 Dec. 2013.
- “Our View: Kansas regents overreach,” Joplin Globe, 28 Dec. 2013. “And because of the public role these universities serve, threatening to fire professors and staff members if they post something on social media that is ‘contrary to the best interests of the university’ violates free speech rights and becomes a First Amendment issue.”
- Andra Bryan Stefanoni, “Social media policy for Kansas universities panned,” Joplin Globe, 28 Dec. 2013.
- Tim Schrag, “Regents took comment consequences too far,” Hutchinson News, 28 Dec. 2013.
- Scott Rothschild, “Regents call for review of recently approved social media policy,” Lawrence Journal-World, 31 Dec. 2013.
- Frank D. LoMonte, “A Dangerous Policy,“ Inside Higher Ed, 2 Jan. 2014.
- “Kansas Board of Regents Reviews Controversial Social Media Policy,” Inside Higher Ed, 2 Jan. 2014.
- Philip Nel, “KSU Professor weighs in on social media policy,” Lawrence Journal-World, 7 Jan. 2014.
- “Distinguished Professors from KU and KSU: Open Letter to the Kansas Board of Regents.” This ad ran in the Manhattan Mercury, the Lawrence Journal-World, and the Topeka Capital Journal on 12 Jan. 2014.
- Scott Rothschild, “Kansas: Regents chair refuses to suspend social media policy,” Shawnee Dispatch, 16 Jan. 2014
- Philip Nel, “Kansas Board of Regents, Freedom of Speech, and Bad Faith,” Nine Kinds of Pie, 17 Jan. 2014.
- Karen Sarita Ingram, “Faculty fears social media policy infringes on First Amendment rights to free speech,” K-State Collegian, 22 Jan. 2014
- Ben Unglesbee, “Sorting out the legal issues of the regents’ social media policy,” Heard on the Hill (JL World.com weblogs), 22 Jan. 2014.
- Steve Kraske and Beth Lipoff, “Social Media Policy Making Waves at Kansas Universities,” KCOR, 22 Jan. 2014.
- Scott Rothschild, “Working group studying regents’ social media policy will write its own version,” Lawrence Journal-World, 24 Jan. 2014.
- Max McCoy, “KBOR: Suspension is not an Option,” Signals and Noise, 26 Jan. 2014.
- April Mason, “From the Provost’s Desk: Social Media,” K-State Today, 28 Jan. 2014.
- Ben Unglesbee, “KU governance leaders call for suspension of social media policy,” Lawrence Journal-World, 28 Jan. 2014.
- “University governance groups fighting Kansas regents’ social media policy,” Wichita Business Journal, 29 Jan. 2014.
- “News in brief,” The Sunflower, 29 Jan. 2014. Wichita State University’s Faculty Senate passes resolution: “The resolution cites several complaints about the policy, including that it ‘infringes upon the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment’ and ‘continues to pose a significant threat to the public higher education system in Kansas.’ It asks that the policy be suspended until a workgroup composed of public Kansas university representatives can review the process.”
- Philip Nel, “What Can’t You Say in Kansas? An Experiment in Civil Disobedience,“ Nine Kinds of Pie, 29 Jan. 2014.
- Ben Unglesbee, “Taking to social media to test the social media policy,” Lawrence Journal-World, 31 Jan. 2014.
- John M. Crisp, “A university isn’t a business, even in Kansas,” The Gulf Today [United Arab Emirates], 4 Feb. 2014.
- K-State Collegian, “Senate passes social media, smoking resolutions,” K-State Collegian, 7 Feb. 2014.
- Scott Rothschild, “Regents push back at criticisms of social media policy,” Lawrence Journal-World, 12 Feb. 2014.
- Celia Llopis-Jespen, “Regents stand by controversial media policy,” Topeka Capital-Journal, 12 Feb. 2014. ”‘I’m a little offended, quite frankly, with these accusations,’ Emert said. ‘Is there any foundation to say it infringes on the rights to freedom of expression?’”
- Ben Unglesbee, “KU students call on regents to suspend social media policy,” Lawrence Journal-World, 13 Feb. 2014.
- Max McCoy, “Between a Rock and the Regents,” Signals and Noise, 14 Feb. 2014.
- Social Media:
- Kansas Universities Faculty and Staff Against Regents Speech Policy. Facebook group opposed to new policy.
- The #ksspeech hashtag on Twitter. Full explanation here: “What Can’t You Say in Kansas? An Experiment in Civil Disobedience.“
- @UnivKansasProf. ”Best. Job. Ever.” Satirical Twitter account inspired by the new policy.
- Steven Greenhouse, “Even If It Enrages Your Boss, Social Net Speech Is Protected,” New York Times, 21 Jan. 2013.
- Scott Jaschik, “Protecting Academic Freedom,” Inside Higher Ed, 13 Feb. 2014. “A federal appeals court has given a strong endorsement to the idea that faculty speech rights at public colleges and universities were not constrained by a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that limited the rights of some public employees.”
- American Association of University Professors and Association of American Colleges, 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
- Bill of Rights, Library of Congress.
- Higher Learning Commission, “The criteria for accreditation and core components,” Higher Learning Commission. Requirements for accreditation include: “2.D. The institution is committed to freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning” and 2.C.3. The governing board preserves its independence from undue influence on the part of donors, elected officials, ownership interests, or other external parties when such influence would not be in the best interest of the institution”
- George Orwell, 1984. It’s public domain in Australia. Or you might check a copy out of your local library. On line, you can read Orwell’s letter on why he wrote 1984.
- Thomas Frank, “The matter with Kansas now: The Tea Party, the 1 per cent and delusional Demorats,” Slate 16 Feb. 2014.