Archive for Democracy

The object of power is power: a report from today’s Kansas Board of Regents meeting

“The object of power is power.”

— O’Brien, in George Orwell’s 1984

Some of the KSU contingent: (back row) Todd Gabbard, Joe Sutliff Sanders, Abby Knoblauch, Philip Nel; (front row) Elizabeth Dodd, Sierra Hale, and Lexiyee SmithTo support the basic right to freedom of speech and to stand up for academic freedom, faculty, staff, and students from Kansas universities attended today’s Kansas Board of Regents meeting in Topeka, Kansas. The room was packed: standing room only.  The Board of Regents were cheerful, chummy, and completely indifferent to the rights of those whom they allegedly represent. They rescinded our rights to freedom of speech, but they did it with a smile. Fred Logan told us that the Regents respect us, and passed a policy that does not respect academic freedom.

He is a canny politician, and I could see him going places. I mean that both as a compliment to him and as a caution to the people of Kansas. In other words, I am being both sarcastic and completely sincere. Not only does Mr. Logan have the ability to say (with apparent sincerity) words like “respect” without actually meaning them, but the very first thing he did upon entering the room was come up and introduce himself to me. (I was seated in the front row.)

Fred Logan [smiling]: Philip Nel?  Fred Logan.

I stand up. We shake hands.

Logan: It’s nice to meet you.

Me: It’s interesting to meet you.

Logan: I’ve read what you’ve written about me, and I’ve looked at your website.  Don DeLillo?

Me: Yes.

Logan: I read Falling Man, and I was thinking about reading White Noise next. Good choice?

Me: Yes. White Noise is a great choice. That’s the one to read.  [Pause.]  So, are you really going to go through with this policy? Or —

Logan: [Smiling, makes non-committal sound, walks away, waves, and takes his place at the Regents’ Desk of Governance.]

Hence, my first tweet:

And then, the meeting got underway.  

Kansas Board of Regents, at start of meeting, 14 May 2014 Regents’ Chair Fred Logan said of the revised social media policy, “I want to thank the members of the workgroup who worked on this. I in particular want to recognize the co-chairs of the group. They did spectacular work.” He added, “I also want to welcome and thank all the members of the faculty for coming.”

Committee for Harmony, Loyalty, and DisciplineThat was just one of many examples where Mr. Logan said one thing, but the actions of the Regents conveyed a rather different message. The revised policy retains all punitive parts. You can still be fired for a broad array of vaguely defined speech, such as uttering something “contrary to the best interests of the employer.”  Presumably, a blog post (like this one) that is critical of the Kansas Board of Regents might be included in this restriction.  You can also be fired for speech that “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.”  This particular language, of course, inspired our “Committee for Harmony, Loyalty, and Discipline” t-shirts. How would one go about measuring the harmonious content of speech? How might we determine whether speech is disloyal?  And as for impairing discipline, if I were to write that the Kansas Board of Regents have brought shame to the state of Kansas, and that all of them should resign effective immediately, is that a fireable offense?

Because they have done precisely that. In addition to all the negative national publicity this has already received, here’s a story from National Public Radio, this evening. National Public Radio: "In Kansas, Professors Must Now Watch What They Tweet" Kansas is already known for being anti-science (evolution? just a theory!). Now, Kansas is known for its opposition to freedom of speech. If you’re trying to attract top faculty to Kansas universities, you have your work cut out for you. When Fred Logan got to the social media policy, Emporia State University’s Sheryl Lidzy read — on behalf of the Kansas Council of Faculty Senate Presidents — a great defense of freedom of speech. It included such gems as this:

we fear that the most important point continues to be ignored. That point is this: a university system cannot properly function when external groups are allowed to influence university personnel decisions whenever they find certain speech to be objectionable. Because the punitive aspects of this policy create precisely this “heckler’s veto” scenario for controversial speech, we must once again respectfully request that the Board reconsider its determination that the disciplinary aspects of this policy are necessary and desirable.

As Prof. Lidzy read, Regents looked on, with — as my colleague Christina Hauck observed — expressions of “boredom and distaste” for the Faculty Senate Presidents. Kansas Board of Regents, bored, as they listen (or don't) to Council of Faculty Senate Presidents. Photo by Christina Hauck. Lidzy continued:

there are certain rights and responsibilities that are non-negotiable. However expedient it may seem at the time to surrender these cornerstones of the academic mission, there are certain principles that cannot be bargained away, because once they are conceded, the integrity of the entire enterprise is compromised. The freedom to speak without fear of reprisal is perhaps the ultimate example of a principle with which we are not at liberty to experiment and this is why we continue to oppose the punitive aspects of this policy.

The Kansas Board of Regents were unmoved. And yet Fred Logan said, “We have the utmost respect for faculty.”

I found these sort of responses fascinating. Throughout this process, the Board’s attitude towards faculty has been condescending, patronizing, even hostile. The policy itself establishes new ways to fire people, based on very broadly defined objectionable speech. However, Regent Logan says, “We have the utmost respect for faculty.” The vast gap between word and deed is truly breathtaking. This is why I think that Mr. Logan may have a bright future in Kansas politics. Directly after Professor Lidzy’s statement, Logan got up, and rushed over to give her an award for her service, which — he said — the Board very much appreciated.  Again, he is thanking her, even while he completely disregards what she has said.

At the meeting we also learned that the Moody’s downgrade of Kansas’s credit rating (thanks to Governor Brownback and the legislature’s fiscal recklessness) will result in higher borrowing rates for Kansas universities. As my colleague Don Hedrick pointed out after the meeting, the Kansas Board of Regents’ actions also downgrades the rating of Kansas universities.

The Regents passed their punitive social media policy. Of the policy, Fred Logan said, “This will be the strongest and most explicit statement on academic freedom that appears anywhere in our policy manual.” While it is true that the Regents did adopt the workgroup’s recommendations on language affirming academic freedom, it is also true that the Regents retained the original language eviscerating academic freedom. So, if this is their “strongest and most explicit statement on academic freedom,” that’s hardly a cause for rejoicing.

With smiles, conviviality, and bland affirmations of freedom of speech, the Kansas Board of Regents adopted a policy that tells faculty and staff: watch what you say. Of course, Kansas is merely part of a trend of cracking down on freedom of speech. South Carolina’s legislature has punished the College of Charleston for assigning a book, and installed a white supremacist as their new president. A dean at the University of Saskatchewan was just fired for speaking his mind. So, the Kansas Board of Regents are not unusual. They are normal. And they are the future. Indeed, to paraphrase George Orwell, if you want a picture of the future, imagine sensible shoes stamping on a human face—forever.1

——

1. The actual line from Orwell’s 1984 is “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” But the Kansas Board of Regents tends to wear sensible shoes, and not boots.


Update, 10:30 pm, 15 May 2014

in response to Nena Beckley’s comment below, I’ve added (in the comments) a link to the revised policy.  I’m also adding that information here:

Here’s some media coverage (updated 9:00 am, 16 May 2014):

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Kansas Faculty Senates ask Regents for “Freedom to speak without fear of reprisal”

University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University, University of Kansas Medical CenterHere is the statement from the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents, read at today’s Kansas Board of Regents meeting, about 20 minutes ago.


As the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents, it is our responsibility to express to the Board the concerns of the faculty we represent. When the Social Media Policy was introduced in December, we recognized that connecting terminations to faculty speech was extremely problematic, and we requested an opportunity for input and collaboration prior to its passage. This request was denied.

When the newly enacted policy predictably generated national attention and widespread controversy, we were pleased with the Board’s willingness to form a Work Group and revisit the policy. In light of the considerable distraction and backlash created by the policy, we requested a suspension of the policy pending the Work Group’s recommendations. This request was also denied.

When the Work Group’s extensive research failed to identify any university in the nation with a similarly punitive policy, we were hopeful that the widespread and enthusiastic support for the Work Group recommendations would persuade the Board to adopt an advisory policy that would align Kansas with best practices within higher education. Up to this point in the process, this request – like the others before it – has been denied.

Today, we stand before the Board, once again reiterating our unanimous opposition to the chilling effect created by the punitive aspects of this policy. Although we appreciate the creation of the Work Group, and the Governance Committee’s adoption of considerable portions of the Work Group proposal, we fear that the most important point continues to be ignored. That point is this: a university system cannot properly function when external groups are allowed to influence university personnel decisions whenever they find certain speech to be objectionable. Because the punitive aspects of this policy create precisely this “heckler’s veto” scenario for controversial speech, we must once again respectfully request that the Board reconsider its determination that the displinary aspects of this policy are necessary and desirable.

In conclusion, we accept the premise that the Board has acted in good faith and has endeavored to act in the best interests of the Regent’s universities. While we accept this premise, we disagree with the Board’s analysis of the universities’ best interests. In recent years, we have been asked to become more efficient, we have been asked to do more with less, we have been asked to undergo post-tenure review, and we have been asked to improve our standing among our peers across the nation. Believing that our advocates have our best interests at heart, we have willingly embraced all of these challenges, and have already begun to succeed on many fronts. Yet, there are certain rights and responsibilities that are non-negotiable. However expedient it may seem at the time to surrender these cornerstones of the academic mission, there are certain principles that cannot be bargained away, because once they are conceded, the integrity of the entire enterprise is compromised. The freedom to speak without fear of reprisal is perhaps the ultimate example of a principle with which we are not at liberty to experiment and this is why we continue to oppose the punitive aspects of this policy. This policy will continue to be plagued with controversy and opposition as long as it exists.

Because of these imperative principles, and because of practical concerns that this issue will continue to pose a distraction and a drain upon precious time and resources, we once again respectfully ask the Board to adopt the Work Group recommendations in their entirety.

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New Words, Same Tune: Kansas Board of Regents’ Revisions Fall Short

Uncensor KansasThe Kansas Board of Regents’ revised social media policy (announced this afternoon) grants academic freedom with one hand, and takes it away with the other. It adds the language of the work group’s model policy, but refuses the work group’s intent. It retains nearly all of the Board’s original language that drew such criticism — grounds for dismissal still include making statements “contrary to the best interests of the university,” or that “impair discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers,” and so on. But now, the policy begins by affirming principles of academic freedom.

The Board has done what it said it would do: it has taken its original failed policy, and then added language from the work group’s exemplary policy. The problem, of course, is that the language of the original policy remains operative. The Board’s proclamation “Kansas Board of Regents to Consider Substantial Changes to Social Media Policy” is accurate only if the word “substantial” refers to the number of different words in the revised policy: the latest version does adopt most of the work group’s suggested language. However, the proclamation is inaccurate if the word “substantial” refers to the punitive intent of the original policy: making statements as a private citizen can still be cause for dismissal. That has not changed.

This new policy is at odds with itself. It begins by walking towards the light of open, unfettered inquiry, but then turns its back, barricading itself behind its insistence upon censure.

In contradicting itself, the policy also negates itself.

It is a deft piece of sophistry. In seeming to grant the academic freedoms its critics have sought, it initially lulls readers into thinking that the Regents have at last heard and understood. But then, as it approaches the home stretch, it gives us 6.b.3 — which is nearly the same as 6.b. in the original. At that point, previous assurances of “the Kansas Board of Regents’ commitment to the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom” wither before those vague “best interests of the university,” impairing discipline, and all the rest.  The promised oasis of academic freedom turns out to have been a mirage, after all — a lovely, enticing mirage. But a mirage, just the same.

The Kansas Board of Regents is inviting comments on this new policy (once you click on the link, scroll down to the bottom of the page) until this Friday, May 2nd, at 5pm.  So.  Please comment!  It does not seem to be restricted to faculty, staff, or students of Regents universities.  So,… if you’d like to voice your opinion, please do.

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Freedom of Speech and Higher Education

Uncensor KansasParticipating in today’s “Five On the Hour: Stand for Freedom of Speech,” I’m posting the statements I prepared for my two classes. In practice, I ended up improvising. During my first class (English 725: African American Children’s Literature), I realized that I should have started with the connection to the class and then moved out to the Kansas Board of Regents, and so I began re-structuring things on the fly. During my second class, I was much looser, using the statement only as a broad guideline — I began with the connection to the work we were reading (The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963), and then moved out to the Regents’ repressive social media policy.

So. What you see below is not what I read in each class. They’re what I planned to read.


Engl 725: African American Children’s Literature | Engl 355: Literature for Children


ENGLISH 725: AFRICAN AMERICAN CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

Five on the Hour: Freedom of Speech and Higher Education

Philip Nel

I’m going to take the next five minutes to say a few words about Freedom of Speech, and why it’s important in higher education in general and in African American Children’s Literature in particular. Back in December, as you were taking exams, faculty were grading exams, and everyone was preparing to leave town, the Kansas Board of Regents imposed a new social media policy, which they passed over the objections of all faculty, students and administration present at their meeting.

The policy says all speech expressed through social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog, any website, email) can be grounds for firing. Employees (faculty, staff, student employees) may not say anything that’s “contrary to the best interest of the university,” nor may they utter something that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers.” Those terms are so broad as to encompass any speech. As many have noted, this policy creates a repressive climate for the free exchange of ideas — which is at the heart of what we do at a university.

The university is a community of scholars. We discover new knowledge and create new ideas. These ideas are different than what has come before, and difference can be controversial. Indeed, sometimes our ideas challenge social mores. To test our ideas, we debate them, refine them, change them. This process of creation and discovery — evaluated through open and unfettered dialogue — is the means by which our civilization progresses. And the only environment under which this process can occur is an environment of free speech.

Robin Bernstein, Racial InnocenceThere are of course many examples from African American Children’s Literature. As Robin Bernstein has shown us, until relatively recently the notion that children of color can feel just as acutely as white children can feel was not part of the dominant culture in the U.S. Topsy, the Golliwog, and their many descendants propagated the lie that African American children were thicker-skinned and less human than white children. And thus, the notion that black children would deserve a literature that spoke to their experiences was also not an accepted truth. Once, people accepted these ideas as true. But then other people challenged these ideas. We — well, a majority of Americans, at any rate — now regard the notion that African American children would be any less human than white children to be absurd, racist, nonsense. And, though the publishing industry has much work yet to do, there are now books that address the many experiences of growing up black, Latino/a, Native American, or Asian American in the U.S.

But to recognize the foolishness in established “truths” about childhood and children’s literature, we need the freedom to question those “truths.” We need freedom of speech.

So, even though the Regents announced their policy when people were least likely to notice, it did not slip by unnoticed. From across the state, across the country, and across the world people condemned it. Our own local paper, The Manhattan Mercury, called the policy “an anti-free speech manifesto that sounds like a pronouncement from the government of a banana republic.” Our student government has called for its suspension, as has KU’s, as have student governments across the state. All faculty senates have spoken against it. All university presidents have, too.

In response, the Regents then appointed a workgroup of representatives from all Regents campuses to revise their policy. The workgroup crafted a model policy that offers guidelines for speech, but respects the right to freedom of speech. Were the regents to follow the advice that they solicited, Kansas — for a change — could be in the news for doing something thoughtful, even admirable. Yet, at the Regents’ meeting last week, they signaled that they would retain the original policy, but add some of the workgroup’s language affirming freedom of speech. So, in May, I expect they will announce their new, “compromise” policy, which both threatens freedom of speech and yet alleges to uphold it.

Questions of freedom of speech are frequently a concern of children’s literature: most of the books on the ALA’s annual banned books list are books for children or adolescents. Many of the books we have read this semester raise, quite explicitly, the question of what’s appropriate for children. For most of its history, America has been a white supremacist police state. Implicitly and explicitly, African American children’s literature confronts facts about America that most Americans prefer not to think about.

So, here are some resources where you can learn more about this issue.

The Board of Regents will probably vote on this at their May 14th meeting. The workgroup presented the revised policy at the April 16th meeting.



ENGLISH 355: LITERATURE FOR CHILDREN

Five on the Hour: Freedom of Speech and Higher Education

Philip Nel

I’m going to take the next five minutes to say a few words about Freedom of Speech, and why it’s important in higher education in general and children’s literature in particular. Back in December, as you were taking exams, faculty were grading exams, and everyone was preparing to leave town, the Kansas Board of Regents imposed a new social media policy, which they passed over the objections of all faculty, students and administration present at their meeting.

The policy says all speech expressed through social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog, any website, email) can be grounds for firing. Employees (faculty, staff, student employees) may not say anything that’s “contrary to the best interest of the university,” nor may they utter something that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers.” Those terms are so broad as to encompass any speech. As many have noted, this policy creates a repressive climate for the free exchange of ideas — which is at the heart of what we do at a university.

The university is a community of scholars. We discover new knowledge and create new ideas. These ideas are different than what has come before, and difference can be controversial. Indeed, sometimes our ideas challenge social mores. To test our ideas, we debate them, refine them, change them. This process of creation and discovery — evaluated through open and unfettered dialogue — is the means by which our civilization progresses. And the only environment under which this process can occur is an environment of free speech.

Here’s an example. Earlier in the term, I told you that the notion that children deserve their own literature is a relatively recent one. And that, a hundred years ago, experts argued that women should not be allowed to attend college because it would make them infertile (all that blood going to the brain would deprive the womb of blood, you see). Once, people accepted these ideas as true. But then other people challenged these ideas. Now, we recognize that children, cognitively, are different than adults, and indeed that “children” itself is a very broad category: children at nine tend to have more developed cognitive abilities than children at three. Now, we recognize that women can learn without becoming infertile. Indeed, we regard these earlier ideas as laughable. Ridiculous.

But to recognize the foolishness in established “truths,” we need the freedom to question those “truths.” We need freedom of speech.

So, even though the Regents announced their policy when people were least likely to notice, it did not slip by unnoticed. From across the state, across the country, and across the world people condemned it. Our own local paper, The Manhattan Mercury, called the policy “an anti-free speech manifesto that sounds like a pronouncement from the government of a banana republic.” Our student government has called for its suspension, as has KU’s, as have student governments across the state. All faculty senates have spoken against it. All university presidents have, too.

Christopher Paul Curtis, The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963In response, the Regents then appointed a workgroup of representatives from all Regents campuses to revise their policy. The workgroup crafted a model policy that offers guidelines for speech, but respects the right to freedom of speech. Were the regents to follow the advice that they solicited, Kansas — for a change — could be in the news for doing something thoughtful, even admirable. Yet, at the Regents’ meeting last week, they signaled that they would retain the original policy, but add some of the workgroup’s language affirming freedom of speech. So, in May, I expect they will announce their new, “compromise” policy, which both threatens freedom of speech and yet alleges to uphold it.

Questions of freedom of speech are frequently a concern of children’s literature: most of the books on the ALA’s annual banned books list are books for children or adolescents. The book we are reading right now — Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 — raises, quite explicitly, the question of what’s appropriate for children. The Watson children cope with the trauma inflicted by racist white terrorists who kill black children. This is serious stuff. And it’s an award-winning children’s book.

So, here are some resources where you can learn more about this issue.

The Board of Regents will probably vote on this at their May 14th meeting. The workgroup presented the revised policy at the April 16th meeting.

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Kansas Board of Regents Fails Again? UPDATED, 2:30 pm

Kansas Board of RegentsBased on Lawrence Journal-World reporter Scott Rothschild’s tweets (see below), the Kansas Board of Regents are rejecting the social media work group’s thoughtful revisions to the Board of Regents’ failed social media policy.  If I understand Mr. Rothschild correctly, they’re going to tack on some language affirming academic freedom to a policy that eviscerates academic freedom.  In sum, the Kansas Board of Regents appear to be treating the workgroup’s recommendations as a kind of garnish for the Board of Regents’ original turd sandwich.

So, here are 3 things you can do:

  1. If you teach at a Regents university, please join us for Five on the Hour (April 21 and 22), when — at the top of each hour, in our classes — we’ll talk about freedom of speech and how it’s integral to our work.
  2. You might also contact the Kansas Board of Regents, and let them know your views.  Contacting Governor Brownback is also a fine idea.
  3. Come to “Academic Freedom and Responsibility in the Age of Social Media,” at the University of Kanas, 27 April 2014. Free and open to the public.

I have to dash off to teach now, but wanted to get this info. out as soon as I could.

UPDATE #1 (16 April, 11:30am): Full report

UPDATE #2 (16 April, 2:30 pm): Regents now say they will adopt “nearly all” recommendations of social media workgroup.

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Distinguished Professors from KSU, KU, KUMC, WSU: Open Letter to the Kansas Board of Regents

University of Kansas, Kansas State University, Wichita State University, University of Kansas Medical Center

15 April 2014

Dear Kansas Board of Regents,

We write to offer strong support for the joint working group’s revision of the Kansas Board of Regents’ social media policy.  The revised policy is laudable in several ways.

First, it recognizes the unique and fundamental duty of public universities to contribute to the discovery, creation, and testing of new knowledge, as well as the educational necessity to encourage critical thinking and ensure breadth of knowledge for students.  These are primary responsibilities of public universities; they differentiate college classrooms, university lecture halls, and campus libraries from nearly every other sort of work environment.  Any policy regarding the sharing of thoughts and language in an academic environment must support this critical role for university employees.

Second, the process of its development models scholarly inquiry.  The group formed for this task includes individuals (faculty and staff) with multiple areas of expertise and experience.  They analyzed existing policies across the Regents’ campuses, searched nationally for parallel policies, debated the goals and language among themselves, and released their draft for further scrutiny and debate within the academic communities where it will be implemented.  This process exemplifies the very practices of scholarship that are so fundamental to academic work.

Third, it offers true guidance for the proper development of campus-specific policies, relying on the specific procedures already mandated for policy development on the individual Regents campuses, each of which has an individual mission in which academic freedom and discourse must function.  This draft is neither chilling nor punitive; to the contrary, it encourages thoughtful, informed examination of how the new technologies of social media complicate as well as facilitate public discourse.

“The proper role of public intellectuals is to question accepted dogmas, conceive of new methods of analysis, and expand the terms of public debate,” John Cassidy observes in a recent review of a Harvard University Press publication (“Forces of Divergence,” The New Yorker, 31 March 2014: 73).

As University Distinguished Professors at Kansas State University and the University of Kansas Medical Center, and Distinguished Professors at the University of Kansas and Wichita State University, we find this draft meets, supports, and exemplifies the role of scholarship for public intellectuals in a democracy.  We endorse it with enthusiasm.

Sincerely yours,

Christer Aakeroy, Chemistry, KSU
Kenneth B. Armitage, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, KU
Victor Bailey, History, KU
Deborah Ballard-Reisch, Strategic Communication, WSU
William A. Barnett, Economics, KU
Raj Bhala, Law, KU
John Blair, Biology, KSU
Frank Blecha, Veterinary Medicine, KSU
Susan J. Brown, Biology, KSU
Yolanda Broyles-Gonzalez, American Ethnic Studies, KSU
Edgar Chambers IV, Human Nutrition, KSU
Gaylen Chandler, Management, WSU
M. M. Chengappa, Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology, KSU
C. Lewis Cocke, Physics, KSU
Gary Conrad, Biology, KSU
Ann Cudd, Philosophy, KU
David Darwin, Engineering, KU
Lynn Davidman, Sociology & Jewish Studies, KU
Richard DeGeorge, Philosophy, KU
Rob Denell, Biology, KSU
Elizabeth Dodd, English, KSU
Walter Dodds, Biology, KSU
Michael Dryden, Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology, KSU
James H. Edgar, Chemical Engineering, KSU
Charles C. Eldredge, Art History, KU
Paul Enos, Geology, KU
Joseph B. Evans, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, KU
Steven Farmer, Management, WSU
Stephen B. Fawcett, Applied Behavioral Science, KU
Victor S. Frost, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, KU
Prasad Gogineni, Engineering, KU
Robert Goldstein, Geology, KU
David Hartnett, Biology, KSU
Jonathan Holden, English, KSU
Joan S. Hunt, Anatomy & Cell Biology, KUMC
Ryszard Jankowiak, Chemistry, KSU
Anthony Joern, Biology, KSU
Michael Kanost, Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, KSU
Susan Kemper, Psychology, KU
Barbara Alane Kerr, Psychology, KU
Kenneth J. Klabunde, Chemistry, KSU
John Leslie, Plant Pathology, KSU
Robert Linder, History, KSU
David Littrell, Music, KSU
Daniel C. Marcus, Anatomy & Physiology KSU
Richard Marston, Geography, KSU
Charles Russell Middaugh, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, KU
Subbaratnam Muthukrishnan, Biochemsistry & Molecular Biophysics, KSU
T. G. Nagaraja, Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology, KSU
Joane Nagel, Sociology, KU
Philip Nel, English, KSU
David Nualart, Mathematics, KU
Berl Oakley, Molecular Biosciences, KU
Rosemary O’Leary, Public Affairs & Administration, KU
Harald E. L. Prins, Anthropology, KSU
Jeffrey J. Quirin, Accountancy, WSU
Teresa Radebaugh, Aging, WSU
Charles W. Rice, Agronomy, KSU
Mabel L. Rice, Speech, Language & Hearing, KU
Juergen A. Richt, Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology, KSU
Jim Riviere, Veterinary Medicine, KSU
Thomas E. Roche, Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics, KSU
Dan Rockhill, Architecture, KU
Jan Roskam, Aerospace Engineering, KU
Edmund Russell, History, KU
Paul Selden, Geology, KU
James Shanteau, Psychological Sciences, KSU
Prakash P. Shenoy, Business, KU
Christopher Sorensen, Physics, KSU
Brian Spooner, Biology, KSU
Valentino Stella, Chemistry, KU
Barbara Timmerman, Chemistry, KU
Mike Tokach, Animal Sciences Industry, KSU
Ann Turnbull, Education, KU
H. Rutherford Turnbull III, Education, KU
David B. Volkin, Pharmaceutical Chemistry, KU
Philine Wangemann, Anatomy & Physiology, KSU
Ruth Welti, Biology, KSU
G. Paul Willhite, Engineering, KU
George S. Wilson, Chemistry, KU
Dean Zollman, Physics, KSU

cc: Social Media Policy Workgroup (Kevin Johnson, Max McCoy, Kristin Rupp, Melissa J. Hunsicker Walburn, Julia Keen, Jeff Morris, Browyn Conrad, Dacia Clark, Charles Epp, Easan Selvan, Mark Fisher, Victoria Mosack, Richard Muma), Governor Sam Brownback, KSU President Kirk Schulz, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, WSU President John W. Bardo, KSU Provost April Mason, KU Provost Jeff Vitter, WSU Provost Tony Vizzini, KSU Faculty Senate President Julia Keen, KU Faculty Senate President Chris Steadham, KSU Director of Government Relations Sue Peterson


UPDATE, 15 Apr. 2014, 1:00 pm: Philine Wangemann’s name was omitted from the original version of this letter. It has now been added. Apologies for the omission. Tom Roche’s name was added, but without the final “e.” Apologies for the misspelling.

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Kansas Board of Regents Wins Muzzle Award; Revised Social Media Policy Wins Praise

Kansas Board of Regents

The reviews are in, and they’re good. The Social Media Policy Workgroup‘s revision to the Kansas Board of Regents’ social media policy has won near-unanimous praise. People are saying things like:

“reasonable”

— Chuck Epp, co-chairman of the Workgroup and Professor of Public Affairs, University of Kansas (he is summarizing the response thus far).

“entirely appropriate”

— Susan Twombly, Professor of Education, University of Kansas

“a vast improvement”

— Chris Steadham, Faculty Senate President, University of Kansas

“It begins and ends by affirming academic freedom.”

— Philip Nel, Professor of English, Kansas State University

(Yes, that last one is me.) It’s unusual to have such wide agreement among academics. Because the revised policy is so sound, critics of the Kansas Board of Regents’ current policy have mostly been holding their tongues, hoping that the Regents will heed the advice they’ve solicited. On April 16th, the Workgroup will present the new policy to the Regents, and on May 14th the Regents will let us know whether they’ll accept the recommended changes.

As we await their decision, it’s worth remembering that the Kansas Board of Regents’ current social media policy has met with near universal disdain. Indeed, that disdain is currently what the board is best known for.  Type in “Kansas Board of Regents” into Google, and this is what you get:

Kansas Board of Regents, acc. to Google

Yes, Google only suggests “social media” and “social media policy” as related terms, which in and of themselves do not convey the disdain. However, if you take those suggestions and read some of the search results, you find plenty of criticism, much of it withering. Most recently, the Kansas Board of Regents won a Jefferson Muzzle Award:

The Regents adopted this first-of-its-kind policy without consulting university leaders or faculty who, unsurprisingly, were not pleased. … Reaction to the policy from national academic freedom advocates was also negative. The American Association of University Professors described the policy as “a gross violation of the fundamental principles of academic freedom that have been a cornerstone of American higher education for nearly a century,” while the Student Press Law Center warned that the “breathtaking” sweep of the regulation evidenced “an eagerness to control the off-the-clock lives of employees that is itself cause for suspicion.”

… The Board of Regents could have issued a strong signal of support for the principles of academic freedom and free expression by suspending the current social media policy and pledging to implement the workgroup’s recommendations. Instead, 36 member schools are left sitting below a virtual sword of Damocles, waiting to see how—or even if—the Regents will remove it. This 2014 Jefferson Muzzle is therefore awarded to the Kansas Board of Regents in hopes that First Amendment principles will guide them in resolving this issue as well as those they may face in the future.

The only people speaking out in favor of the policy have been the Regents themselves, and the occasional representative from the Kansas Legislature — a group that, in its current term, has pursued laws making it easier to hit children, legalizing discrimination against gays, nullifying federal environmental laws, and nullifying federal gun laws. (In sum, if Kansas legislators are your only allies, you may want to rethink your position.) Here’s a sampling of what people have said about the Regents’ current social media policy:

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?

— Matt Reed, “A Lump of Coal for Kansas,” Inside Higher Ed, 19 Dec. 2013.

Does your job own your civil liberties when you’re off the clock? Does it own your thoughts, expressed freely, when you’re home? Are we saying that the government can’t abridge your constitutional rights, but that The Brand can? If you answer instantly, “yes,” think again about what you’re saying, and about the kind of country in which you want to live.

— Charles P. Pierce, “The Tyranny of the Brand,” Esquire: The Politics Blog, 19 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.

— “Kansas Board of Regents social media rules imperil free speech,” Kansas City Star, 20 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.

— “Editorial: Curbing Speech,” Lawrence Journal-World, 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.

— “New Regents policy really bad idea,” Manhattan Mercury, 22 Dec. 2013.

The regents seem to have milked the Guth incident for maximum possible censorship, and now the verboten also extends to statements that are “contrary to the best interests of the university” or anything that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among coworkers.” It is these two phrases’ ominously wide reach—and overt insistence on lockstep fealty—that are legitimately terrifying. … Of course, the regents may think they’re stemming a rising tide of inflammatory violence-tweets, but in reality theirs is an outsized, reactionary maneuver that harnesses hysteria to further a repressive agenda.

— 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.

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.

— “Our View: Kansas regents overreach,” Joplin Globe, 28 Dec. 2013

At its heart, the Kansas policy exemplifies a larger problem afflicting all of government – the hair-trigger use of punitive authority whenever the agency’s public image is imperiled. At many, if not most, government agencies today, it is easier to get fired for making the agency look bad than for actually doing your job badly.

— Frank D. LoMonte, “A Dangerous Policy,” Inside Higher Ed, 2 Jan. 2014.

The policy stifles free expression, adversely affects morale at all universities, makes it harder for us to recruit top-tier faculty, and indeed makes it likely that our own faculty will seek work elsewhere. If we lack the ability to debate controversial ideas, we cannot do our jobs as teachers or scholars.

— “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.

if the new policy is implemented, professors could be subject to termination if their disagreement is professed too loudly, or in the wrong way, or even at all.

Fortunately, I happen to be writing from the relative safety of Texas, where repressive tactics like those proposed in Kansas haven’t – as yet – gained much purchase. But I wonder whether, if I raised these same modest objections in Wichita or Topeka, I could be subject to termination. No wonder the Kansas professoriate and the American Association of University Professors are pushing back. The essential nature of the university – in Kansas and elsewhere – is at risk.

— John M. Crisp, “A university isn’t a business, even in Kansas,” The Gulf Today [United Arab Emirates], 4 Feb. 2014.

Uncensor Kansas

There’s an abundance of negative reviews — student governments, faculty senates, and many others have called for the policy’s suspension or removal.  I’ve not included all here. If you’re interested, you might peruse this more extensive list of press coverage, at the bottom of my original post on the subject.

If they elect to retain the current policy or make only cosmetic modifications to it, the Kansas Board of Regents can expect more bad press. So, I hope the Regents will adopt the carefully revised policy, created by the workgroup that they formed.  They have a golden opportunity to make Kansas famous for thoughtfulness, and to offer a model social media policy for other universities to emulate.

Will they do the right thing? I guess we’ll find out on May 14th.  Until then, our rights remain tenuous, at best.  Even though the days are getting warmer, a chilling climate persists on the campuses of Kansas universities.


Image sources: Kansas Board of Regents, Google search for “Kansas Board of Regents,” Uncensor Kansas (Facebook page). On Facebook, there’s also the more active group, Kansas Universities’ Faculty & Staff Against Regents’ Speech Policy.

A more comprehensive list of relevant links can be found here, and of course there are several posts on this blog tagged Kansas Board of Regents.

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Five on the Hour: Freedom of Speech

Uncensor KansasThis is an open letter to our colleagues at the Regents universities in Kansas (Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Kansas State University, Pittsburg State University, University of Kansas, University of Kansas Medial Center, Wichita State University), but anyone who would like to participate is welcome to do so!


Dear Colleagues,

As the Kansas Board of Regents prepares to consider the workgroup’s recommended changes to its social media policy, we’re inviting you to join us in helping students understand the important implications for themselves, their university, and their society.  On Monday April 21 and Tuesday April 22, we’re going to do a “Five on the Hour Pause,” where at the top of the hour we each take 5 minutes to talk a little bit about why freedom of speech is important to our discipline, academia, and the culture at large.

We’re doing it at the top of each hour to provide a sense of the unifying, interdisciplinary importance of this topic. We’re proposing two days to cover classes that meet MWF as well as Tu-Th.  If your class meets once a week but not on a Monday or Tuesday, then we invite you to simply take five minutes during that class on whatever day it meets.  We believe this is an important teaching moment for all the students at our campus.

If you are interested in participating, here are a few guidelines we suggest you follow:
(1) Present a clear explanation of academic freedom.  We’ve drafted a statement, but you should feel free to modify it, if you think it needs modifying:

The university is a community of scholars. As scholars, we discover new knowledge and create new ideas. These ideas are different from what has come before, and difference can be controversial. Indeed, sometimes our ideas challenge social mores. To test our ideas, we debate them, refine them, change them. This process of creation and discovery — evaluated through open and unfettered dialogue — is the means by which our civilization progresses. And the only environment under which this process can occur is an environment of free speech.

(2) Identify the discipline-specific implications for the class you’re teaching.  How have unconventional or controversial ideas, research methods, literature, etc. impacted the field your students study with you?

(3) Invite students to read the KBOR’s policy and the workgroup’s recommendation for a new policy.   Inform them about the process involved thus far, who the participants are in these current events, as well as the timetable for public commentary: <http://www.k-state.edu/today/announcement.php?id=13496>.  Invite them to explore further the connection between “real world” current events and the concept of academic freedom as it pertains to the subject they study in your course.  Do not require your students to take any specific action.  Do not use class time to lobby on the issue: remember that this is a teaching moment and not a form of political activity, in keeping with Kansas State law and KBOR policies.

Here are some informative links you might share with them:

Thanks very much for considering joining us.

Sincerely yours,

Lynn Davidman, Department of Sociology, University of Kansas
Elizabeth Dodd, Department of English, Kansas State University
Susan Kemper, Department of Psychology, University of Kansas
Philip Nel, Department of English, Kansas State University
Harald E.L. Prins, Department of Anthropology, Kansas State University
Chris Sorensen, Department of Physics, Kansas State University


Image source: Uncensor Kansas (Facebook page). On Facebook, there’s also the more active group, Kansas Universities’ Faculty & Staff Against Regents’ Speech Policy.

A more comprehensive list of relevant links can be found here, and of course there are several posts on this blog tagged Kansas Board of Regents.

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Kansas, the banana republic

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.

This first try was ghastly, pure and simple, and should be stricken down immediately.

— “New Regents policy really bad idea,” Manhattan Mercury, 22 Dec. 2013.

Since the Mercury is subscriber-only (in its on-line version), I’ve taken the liberty of posting a photograph of the full editorial below. If the Mercury would like me to take it down, I’m glad to comply.


"New Regents policy really bad idea," Manhattan Mercury, 22 Dec. 2013


Link to piece on Manhattan Mercury website (subscribers only).

Further information:

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Higher Education is Not a Reality TV Show; or, How A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” Differs from the Kansas Board of Regents

Free Speech ZoneOn Facebook, a friend recently asked me how the recent controversy over the Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media policy differs from A&E’s suspending of Phil Robertson from the Duck Dynasty reality TV show. I see why she asks: The Kansas Board of Regents has rescinded faculty and staff’s right to free speech, just as A&E has rescinded Phil Robertson’s right to free speech.

First, let me go on record as saying that I support Phil Robertson’s right to express his belief that homosexuality is immoral, and to use the language of Christianity to do so. I think that using religion to advocate bigotry dishonors the Christian faith, and I wish that he would express his ignorance in a different way. But the First Amendment grants him the right to express foolish ideas, and I support that right.

A&E, however, is a corporation. If it chooses not to grant Mr. Robertson a venue for his homophobia, he can still express it — just not on the Duck Dynasty television program.

But here’s where reality TV and academia part ways. The free and open exchange of ideas is at the core of the academic enterprise, and one venue for that exchange is social media — blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. The Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media policy says that faculty and staff can be fired for impairing “discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers,” or for doing anything “contrary to the best interest of the university.” In addition to being both broad and vague, that language hampers our ability to do our jobs.

cartoon by Ann Telnaes

A university is different from a corporation. Academics who work for universities exchange ideas because it’s our job to exchange ideas. It is at the core of what the academic enterprise is all about. Thanks to this new social media policy, we now lack some of the basic tools for sharing research.

For example, the Kansas Board of Regents is appointed by Governor Sam Brownback, who believes that gay and lesbian people do not deserve human rights (such as, say, the right to marry). What if you’re doing research on human rights? Or teaching Walt Whitman, Alison Bechdel, or Oscar Wilde? Would that be “contrary to the best interest of the university”? Would it foster disharmony? If your university president is as prejudiced as your governor, talking about these ideas openly might give you pause. I am pleased to report that Kansas State University’s president supports the rights of LGBTQ people, but university presidents come and go. Policies last for a long time. And this sort of policy impedes the exchange of ideas.

In crafting this policy, the Kansas Board of Regents did not consult the faculty, staff, or administration of the Regents institutions. Had they done so, they might have avoided this debacle. Indeed, the most productive way forward would be for them to rescind the new social media edict, and instead work with elected representatives from the faculty and university administrations, to craft a sensible social media policy.

Further information:

Image credits: cartoon by the great Ann Telnaes; “Free Speech Zone” map from UpperLeft.

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