Archive for University of Kansas

Testify! Keeping Kansas Universities Gun-Free

Today, supporters of Senate Bill 53 arrived in Topeka (Kansas’ capital), offering reasons for why firearms should not be invited onto our campus and into KU’s medical center. If you’re from a more rational U.S. state or from outside of the U.S., you may be wondering why bringing guns into classrooms is even being debated. But, as of July 1, our campuses will all be weaponized. And, yes, I am serious.  So, I and three colleagues — two professors, one graduate student — drove to Topeka together in support of a bill that, if passed, would continue to exempt universities and the med center from the Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act — the official name of Kansas’ “Guns Everywhere” law. (And, yes, I am familiar with George Orwell’s works. Why do you ask?)

Photo by Regan Tokos, Topeka Capitol Building, 26 Jan. 2017

As you can see from Regan Tokos’ photo (taken just before the hearing), above, the room was packed: standing room only, with many people spilling out into the hall.  We supporters of SB 53  far outnumbered those who sought to invite guns into our classrooms, libraries, dormitories, lecture halls, offices, and laboratories. Last night, I learned that 53 people had submitted testimony supporting the measure, and only 5 people had supported testimony against it.  The rules were: testimony must be submitted in advance in print (could not be emailed), and if you also wanted to testify in person, then you also had to phone or email Senator Jacob LaTurner‘s office to let them know you planned to testify.

Photo by Regan Tokos, Topeka Capitol Building, 26 Jan. 2017

Citing our large numbers, Senator LaTurner (who chairs the committee granting the bill a hearing) gave supporters of the bill only 90 seconds each. He granted opponents of the bill between 2 minutes and 4 minutes 30 seconds each. (Senator LaTurner opposes the bill.) So, we all abridged our remarks on the fly. Here is my full statement.  I managed to fit in points 2, 3, and 4 today at the hearing.


Statement in Support of SB 53

Good morning. My name is Philip Nel. I’ve called Manhattan home for over 16 years. And I’m here to urge the legislature to vote yes on Senate Bill 53. Though teaching at Kansas State University has certainly shaped my opinion on the subject, I’m here as a private citizen only. Here are five reasons you should support SB 53.

First, unlike other campus-carry states, Kansas doesn’t really regulate guns anymore — you don’t need a license or permit or even lessons on how to use a gun. Inviting unregulated firearms onto college campuses does not make students safer. It places them at greater risk. Accidents happen. Suicidal students with a gun are much more likely to succeed in killing themselves. College can be an emotionally volatile time. Adding unregulated guns is dangerous.

Second, the military does not allow guns in its barracks or its classrooms — unless the class is actually on how to use those guns. So, if trained professionals prohibit guns from their classrooms and living quarters, why should we invite people to arrive on a university campus or in a hospital armed but untrained?

Third, that whole “good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun” notion is what we might call an “alternative fact.” In other words, a lie. Between 2000-2013, the FBI found only 1 of 160 active shooter incidents was stopped by a civilian with a concealed carry permit. Again, that’s 1 out of 160. In contrast, during that same period, 21 incidents were stopped by unarmed civilians. In fact, armed civilians are much more likely to get in the way of first responders than help them.

Fourth, in a university, we are armed with reason, not weapons. University classrooms have long been a safe space for students to discuss important, contentious subjects. Campus carry would change this dynamic profoundly. In a concealed-carry classroom, every student is a potentially armed student, and thus an unspoken threat to his fellow students. In other words, campus carry revokes the safety upon which freedom of speech depends.

Fifth and finally, if the legislature passes SB 53, then it will be helping universities and the KU medical center by making them places that attract talented people — rather than encouraging those people to decide that, because of campus carry, they would rather take a job in another state.  So, please vote yes on SB 53.

Thank you for your time.

— Philip Nel, 26 January 2017


 Thanks to LoudLight (who filmed this), you can see and hear all of the testimony.

Senator Tom Hawk (D-Manhattan) begins, and hits all of the main points of our argument — even, I was pleased to see, a citation of the Kansas State University Distinguished Professors’ opposition to campus carry.  You’ll hear activist extraordinaire (and KU grad student) Megan Jones at around 12 mins. in, K-State UDP Elizabeth Dodd at 15:45, yours truly at about 27, K-State Associate Professor Daniel A. Hoyt at 29:15, and K-State undergrad & general force-for-good Regan Tokos at around 45 mins.

What now? Well, we next need Senator LaTurner to have the committee pass the bill out of the committee for debate of the full senate, giving all senators a chance to debate its merits.  We also will need support from the house, and the governor.  Incidentally, inspired by Megan Jones, I spoke with Governor Brownback before the hearing. (Megan spotted Governor Brownback first, and went up to talk to him. She was swiftly followed by Elizabeth Dodd. I was next.) We all asked him to support the safety of faculty, students and staff. He was polite and non-committal, appearing receptive to our concerns. However and given his previous support for the “Guns Everywhere” law, I doubt that he will in fact support SB 53.

That said, I would very much like to be wrong, and so shall continue to speak up — and encourage you to do so, too! In particular, contact the members the Kansas Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, and encourage them to bring the bill to the full senate for a vote. Thank you!

Photo credits: Regan Tokos.

News coverage of today’s hearing [updated 8:35 pm, 27 Jan. 2017]:

Related writing on this subject (by me, and on this blog unless otherwise indicated):

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The Public University in an Age of Alt-Facts: Remarks on Receiving a Higuchi Award

Brief remarks on the university in an age of misinformation, delivered today when I received a Higuchi Award.


It’s a great honor to be joining Professors Christer Aakeröy, Judith Carta, and Randolph Nudo in receiving recognition for our research. It’s especially meaningful to be receiving this recognition right now, at a moment when facts and the notion of policy based on facts are being pushed aside in favor of — oh, let’s call it alt-truth. As I’m sure you know, the incoming presidential administration has nominated a climate-change-denier to head the EPA. And yet, here we are today, honoring scientists, as we should be — honoring a pioneering scholar in rehabilitation medicine, and an international leader in crystal engineering and supramolecular chemistry. light bulbMeanwhile, in decisions being made outside of our hallowed halls, the nominee to oversee our nation’s public education system wants to dismantle it, replacing it with unregulated, for-profit charter schools. And yet we’re here today honoring a national leader in early childhood special education. As we should be. This incongruity between what we’re celebrating now and what we face in the very near future makes the Higuchi Award feel even more special — a bright light in the gathering darkness.

I have been feeling lately — and I would imagine that my fellow Higuchi honorees may share this feeling — that our work has become much more urgent than it was before November 9th. My next book — which is on racism in children’s literature — will appear a few months into an administration with a White supremacist Attorney General, a White supremacist Senior Advisor, and an Islamophobic National Security Advisor.1 As we’re entering this period of backlash, I continue to believe that diverse, inclusive children’s literature is one of the best places to imagine a better future. Stories we encounter when we are young, when we are selves in the process of being formed, have a lasting impact on the people we become. Stories tell children that they belong (or don’t belong) not only to a broader community of readers, but also in their neighborhoods, their schools, and their country. As we face a concerted federal effort to revoke civil rights, we can — and we must — nurture a new generation that is less susceptible to bigotry and the many wounds it inflicts. That’s something we can do in children’s literature, and anywhere in higher education.

Whatever our role in the university system, I think we now must imagine ourselves as keepers of values that we probably have taken for granted. We know that evidence-based reasoning, that carefully tested knowledge, that peer-reviewed scholarship best serves the public interest, and we will need to defend this value repeatedly over the next four (and possibly eight) years. We know that, to create new knowledge, we will also disagree, but that we will do so with civility and respect for those we disagree with. This value — of respectful disagreement and the compromises that may result — we will also need to defend, and to model for our students. We know, too, that knowledge is created by people of all races, genders, sexualities, abilities, and faiths (or absence of faith). Indeed, intellectual labor thrives in diverse communities such as those at KU and K-State. We will need to defend this value, too.2

So. Thanks to KU and the Higuchi family for supporting these values by supporting our research. My personal thanks to Jim Guikema for assembling my nomination, to Elizabeth Dodd for her support, and to Karin Westman for her love, encouragement, and extraordinary patience over the past 23 years. And thanks to all of you, not just for coming today, but — through your roles in Kansas higher education — for continuing to work for a state, a country and a world where research matters, where facts matter, where education matters, and where all of us can receive the same inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Thank you.

— Philip Nel, Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 13 Dec. 2016


Endnotes

  1. Scott Pruitt is EPA nominee; Betsy DeVos is Secretary of Education nominee; Jeff Sessions is Attorney General nominee; Steve Bannon is Senior Advisor; Gen Michael Flynn is National Security Advisor.
  2. Third paragraph draws from Greg Downey, “The presidential election of 2016 and the values of a research university.” Greg Downey 9 Nov. 2016.

Final note

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t post something as (frankly) inconsequential as a thank-you-for-this-award speech. But, in these dark times, I have been finding it helpful to read others’ affirmation of our core values. We need to keep speaking out. We need to affirm our shared humanity, our belief in civic discourse, our certainty that facts matter. It is in this spirit that I’ve decided to post these remarks.

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Why Campus Carry Threatens Higher Education

No guns. Sign on door of ECS Building, Kansas State UniversityToday, I’m joining other members of K-SAFE (K-Staters Against Fatal Encounters) and the KCGFC (Kansas Coalition for a Gun-Free Campus) at the statehouse, in Topeka.  There, we’ll hand out flyers that — we hope — will show our legislators the grave danger the “Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act.” Yes, this is really the name of the act that invites guns into dormitories, classrooms, counseling services, lecture halls, football stadiums, and faculty offices — and that will go into effect on July 1, 2017.

Here is a pdf of the flyer I’ve brought.

Below, the text of the flyer.


Why Campus Carry Threatens Higher Education

  • According to legislation passed by the Kansas Legislature in 2013, state and municipal bodies cannot ban any legal gun owner from carrying concealed handguns on their campuses and public spaces, beginning in July 2017.
  • The 2015 Kansas Legislature amended the law to drop any requirements for firearm or permit training for carrying concealed weapons.

These moves are currently supported by the Kansas Board of Regents, who are legally charged with the safety of all Regents institutions.

Guns will be permitted on all university property:

  • Dormitories
  • Dining facilities
  • Classrooms
  • Laboratories
  • Libraries
  • Tutoring centers
  • Test-taking locations
  • Lecture halls
  • Recreational facilities
  • Student Union meeting rooms
  • Counseling Services
  • Sporting event venues (football and basketball stadiums, etc.)
  • Faculty offices

70 percent of state university employees in Kansas oppose campus carry.

— survey conducted by the non-partisan Docking Institute of Public Affairs (2016)

“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings”

— Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008)

“Concealed carry does not transform ordinary citizens into superheroes. Rather, it compounds the risks to innocent lives”

New York Times, 26 Oct. 2015

Concealed carry threatens free speech. A faculty working group a the University of Houston has advised its professors: “Be careful discussing sensitive topics.” “Drop certain topics from your curriculum.” “Don’t ‘go there’ if you sense anger.”

The Atlantic, 4 March 2016

K-SAFE: K-Staters Against Fatal Encounters


Kansas Coalition for a Gun-Free Campus: #FailCampusCarry


Further resources that may be of interest:

In Higher Education

Gun Control

Kansas

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Fighting for Freedom of Speech: The First Amendment Under Attack

Fighting for Freedom of Speech: The First Amendment Under Attack

Good afternoon.  Thanks for coming.  Thanks to Susan Kemper for organizing this, and to KU for hosting.

I’m @philnel on Twitter. The Board of Regents is @ksregents. And the hashtag for this conference is #FreeSpeechKS. If you Tweet, feel free to tag us. In case there are any Regents unable to attend, I will periodically live-Tweet my talk, and post the full text when I finish.

I open with that because everything I am saying now is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It’s protected whether I say it in this room, on a blog, via social media, or directly to Regents Chairman Fred Logan. What we are all doing here today is asserting our rights as U.S. citizens to speak, without fear of censure.

U.S. Constitution, Amendment I

I also open with that because what we are doing here is asserting our rights, as scholars, to academic freedom. As the AAUP’s 1940 Statement on Academic Freedom reminds us,

Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good…. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition. Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning.

This fundamental principle is under attack — and not just in Kansas, but in South Carolina, Tennessee, Michigan, Colorado, and many other places. Across the country, opponents of freedom of speech are trying to quash intellectual inquiry, to prevent educators from doing their jobs, and to take away their basic rights as citizens.

Now, of course, that’s not how they put it. They offer different reasons. A state legislator in Michigan has threatened to take $500,000 away from Michigan State University’s budget because the university has a few courses on labor unions. According to him, even to talk about the subject would “encourage labor disputes.” Meanwhile, Tennessee Senator Stacey Campfield didn’t like the University of Tennessee’s student-run Sex Education Week — which included speakers from a range of perspectives, including clergy, and proponents of abstinence education. So, he proposed legislation forbidding the university from using any of its money on any invited speakers. This would shut down even commencement speakers, even anyone who came for free but received travel reimbursement. Senator Campfield’s reasoning? Teaching about sex didn’t promote “diversity of thought.”

Alison Bechdel, Fun HomeAnd, as it so often does, South Carolina has embraced political recklessness with the greatest fervor. This year, its legislature cut $52,000 from the College of Charleston’s budget because — as a voluntary, summer read — the college recommended Alison Bechdel’s award-winning Fun Home, a lyrical, beautiful memoir about her own coming out and her relationship with her closeted gay father. State representative Garry Smith alleged that recommending the book was a form of, and I quote, “academic totalitarianism,” because it “promoted” homosexuality. Also this year, the College’s Board of Trustees ignored the recommendations of the College’s search committee, and instead appointed as the College of Charleston’s new president, Lt. Governor Glenn McConnell, a man so nostalgic for the Confederacy that he likes to dress up as a Confederate general and opposed attempts to remove the Confederate flag from the statehouse grounds.

These are only a few examples of recent attacks on academic freedom.

But my point is: We in Kansas are not alone. Others are fighting this fight, too.

The reasons for these attacks differ. In the case of South Carolina, it’s ordinary bigotry —against gay people, and against people of color. In Tennessee, ignorance also motivates the censor. In Michigan, it’s explicitly anti-labor, enforcing a curriculum designed to create compliant workers, rather than engaged, inquisitive citizens.

Ideologically, Michigan’s censors are closest to Kansas’s censors — both see the university not as a place for intellectual inquiry, but as a business that produces future employees. The Kansas Board of Regents views Kansas universities as poorly managed credentialing factories. The Regents are the new management, here to tell us how we should do our jobs, advising us not to step out of line, to just keep producing the diplomas that customers — excuse me, students — are paying for.

Kansas Board of Regents, 2014This is why the Board of Regents always justifies their policy by telling us: It’s legal. We’re lawyers. We’ve checked the Constitutionality of this, and it’s legal.

To that, I have four responses. First, if you actually have to check the constitutionality of your social media policy, then you’re aware that the policy is so extreme … that people are going to tell you “This is unconstitutional.”

Second, while it’s worthwhile to investigate the legality of this policy, why is that the only question they seem to be asking? Why not ask: Is this good for higher education in Kansas?  That, after all, is their job as Regents — to advocate for higher education in Kansas.

Third, they don’t ask these questions because the Kansas Board of Regents see a university as just another corporation. But a university is different from a corporation. People who work for universities exchange ideas because it’s our job to exchange ideas. Debate, dissent, discussion — freedom of inquiry — are at the core of what the academic enterprise is all about.

Fourth — and this is a longer point — historically, new forms of media have always been the targets of censors. And, historically, the censors have always failed. History tells us that if the Board of Regents attempts to uphold any version of their current policy, then they will ultimately fail.

There are many reasons why they will fail, the first of which is that powerful ideas — like freedom of speech — are stronger than the state, more enduring than any who would suppress them. Socrates questioned the wisdom of the Athenian state. It sentenced him to death by drinking a mixture containing hemlock. We do not remember the people who tried to censor (and ultimately killed) Socrates, but we still remember Socrates and his ideas — among them, the Socratic method of asking questions to help us arrive at a deeper understanding. I use this method in my classes every day, and I expect many other teachers here use it as well.

Socrates

In the seventeenth century, when the British Parliament sought to replace one means of censorship with another, John Milton wrote one of the most eloquent defenses of freedom of speech. Replacing the Star Chamber, Parliament’s Licensing Order of 1643 said that any publications deemed offensive to the government could be seized and destroyed, and writers, printers, and publishers of such works could be arrested and jailed. In words that speak directly to our current situation, Milton’s Aeropagitica (1644) criticized this law:

how can a man teach with autority, which is the life of teaching, how can he be a Doctor in his book as he ought to be, or else had better be silent, whenas all he teaches, all he delivers, is but under […] the correction of his patriarchal licencer to blot or alter what precisely accords not with the hidebound humor which he calls his judgement. […] I hate a pupil teacher, I endure not an instructer that comes to me under the wardship of an overseeing fist.

That’s exactly the problem here. We cannot teach “under the wardship of an overseeing fist.” We need to be able to share ideas — such as this quotation, which comes from my colleague, Blake scholar Mark Crosby.

John Barrell, Imagining the King's DeathAs the flames of the French Revolution ravaged Paris a century and a half later, the British government was again worried — this time, worried that challenges to monarchy would jump the English Channel. So, they enacted repressive legislation against the freedom to publish an opinion. This culminated in the famous 1794 treason trials, in which the British government prosecuted people for imagining. To write or to think about the end of monarchy, you have to imagine the death of the king and so, according to the government, be engaged in a treasonable act. The defense successfully argued that the only people imagining the king’s death were the prosecution.

One of the pieces of writing that emerged from this period (and, again, thanks to Mark Crosby for pointing me to it), William Godwin’s Political Justice (1793) offered this vigorous and eloquent defense of freedom of speech that offers guidance to us today:

No government ought … to resist the change of its own institutions; and still less ought it to set up a standard upon the various topics of human speculation, to restrain the excursions of an inventive mind. It is only by giving a free scope to these excursions that science, philosophy and morals have arrived at their present degree of perfection, or are capable of going on to that still greater perfection.

This is what the Regents resist understanding: “the excursions of an inventive mind” — and “giving a free scope to these excursions” — is the purpose of higher education. In restraining these excursions, the Regents attack our core mission.

So. What to do? In Tennessee, people protested, and, in the face of strong opposition, Senator Campfield’s bills died after he failed to bring them up for a vote prior to the deadline. In South Carolina, the College of Charleston’s student government and faculty senate have voted no confidence in their Board of Trustees. Students and faculty have taken to the streets. This past Monday, the cast of the Off-Broadway musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home performed scenes from the play at the College.

Here, at their May meeting, the Board of Regents will, I think, present a “revised” policy that adds language affirming academic freedom to a policy that otherwise eviscerates academic freedom. They will present this incoherent policy as a compromise, deliberately ignoring the fact that when you add pieces of an “A” policy (the work group’s revision) to an “F” policy (the Regents’ original) you do not magically transform that “F” into an “A.”  You get, maybe, a “D-.”

A + F = D?

In response, I propose that we: (1) say that we have no confidence in the Kansas Board of Regents’ leadership, (2) demand that they resign, and (3) call for reform in how Regents are selected. Selecting a regent should not be an act of political patronage. People who oversee higher education should actually know something about higher education. I would not presume to tell Regent Logan how to run his law firm – because I have no background in law. And yet Mr. Logan presumes he knows what’s best for higher education. Logan and the Regents’ aggressive indifference to the recommendations of the work group, their condescension towards the faculty, staff, and students that they ostensibly oversee is a clear signal that they have no business serving as Regents.

But we need to do more than this. We need to challenge the pervasive argument that education should follow a business model. Higher education provides a public good. We must, as Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” That is the purpose of higher of education. And it is the purpose that our current regents reject.

Ignorance is strength.

The Board of Regents don’t seem to care that their repressive policies threaten the ability of Kansas universities to attract the very best faculty. After all, given the current academic job market, Kansas universities will still find people to staff the classes. Sure, they may not be the best — but so what? Diminishing the value of a Kansas university degree does not trouble the Regents because they have no interest in research. They simply want to funnel as many paying customers (“students”) as they can through the credential-granting business (“university”). Because you measure the value of a university by how many degrees it grants, don’t you?

That attitude is dangerous. It threatens not just higher education, but the republic itself. Education is not just about producing diplomas. It is about thinking. It is about challenging assumptions. It is about nurturing an informed citizenry who are willing to challenge the assumptions of those who govern them. It is about making people uncomfortable, in ways that may impair harmony among co-workers, or discipline by superiors — in ways that may not be in the “best interest” of whomever is running a university at any given time. A university is about precisely what the Board of Regents’ social media policy prohibits.

So. It’s time for these Regents to step down. And it’s time for Kansans to fight back.


This is the full text of the talk I gave today, at Academic Freedom and Responsibility in the Age of Social Media, a symposium held the University of Kansas. The conference hashtag: #FreeSpeechKS.

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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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What Can’t You Say in Kansas? An Experiment in Civil Disobedience

graffiti, University of Kansas

Governor Appointed Regents who set KU’s administrative policy seem to think that avoiding bad press on Twitter is more important than preserving academic freedom

— graffiti, University of Kansas

If you’re an employee of a university overseen by the Kansas Board of Regents, all speech expressed through social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog, any website) 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,” or “otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.”

In other words, the Kansas Board of Regents is in violation of the social media policy it created — which, conveniently, it is not compelled to abide by. (The Regents have no social media of their own.)  The Regents’ attempt to stifle free speech is “contrary to the best interest of the university” because the freedom to express ideas is the cornerstone of academic inquiry. Sometimes debating ideas may “impair discipline” or “harmony among co-workers”: through argument, we clarify our ideas, discover what works, what needs to be refined, and what should be set aside. Such a policy “adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services” because revoking freedom of speech makes it harder to attract and retain faculty members. It also puts all Kansas universities at risk of losing accreditation. To assess student learning, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools’ Higher Learning Commission (the accrediting body) asks, “By what means do you create and maintain a climate that celebrates intellectual freedom, inquiry, reflection, respect for intellectual property, and respect for differing and diverse opinions?” As an example of valuing a “life of learning,” the Higher Learning Commission “has approved and disseminated statements supporting freedom of inquiry for the organization’s students, faculty, and staff, and honors those statements in its practices.”

Unless all university employees take a vow of silence, it’s impossible to abide by so broad and all-encompassing a policy.

So, friends, Kansans, and allies of freedom of speech everywhere, join me in a little experiment in civil disobedience. If you’re on Twitter, tweet something and tag it #ksspeech — that’s “ks” (the postal abbreviation for Kansas) plus the word “speech.”  If there’s still room, tag @ksregents as well. What should you tweet? Anything you like. A quotation. A recipe. A hypothesis. An observation. A pun. Something else.

I will be tweeting one such statement each day until the Kansas Board of Regents rescinds its unconstitutional social media policy. But I don’t see why I should have all the fun. Join me!

I plan to keep my Tweets civil. I mean, I could say that the Kansas Board of Regents are cowardly political appointees who lack any qualification to oversee higher education (112 characters). I could also say that the Kansas Board of Regents are addle-brained dunderheads (53 characters). But I wouldn’t.

To give credit where it’s due, I’ve borrowed the idea of daily tweets from Amy Lara (@AmyLara12), who has been doing this on Facebook, and is now doing it on Twitter as well. Why not join us? If you can’t think of something to say, just RT (retweet) ones that you like.  You might even MT (modified retweet) someone else’s tweet and add the #ksspeech hashtag.

So many ways to participate! It’ll be fun! If you’d like to be listed as a participant in this experiment, just let me know (via the comments or email) your Twitter handle, and I’ll add it below. If you don’t want to be listed, then say nothing. Thanks!

Free Speech Advocates

  1. @philnel, Kansas State University
  2. @AmyLara12, Kansas State University
  3. @lowellmickwhite, Pittsburg State University
  4. @charleshatfield, California State University, Northridge

Update, 12:40 pm, Thursday, 30 Jan.: I thought inviting people to add their name (above) would be a good way of keeping track of support, but a much better measure seems to be all the RTs (retweets) and new tweets bearing the #ksspeech hashtag.  Here’s a sampling.

  And, finally, quoting the Clash’s “Know Your Rights” (Combat Rock, 1982):


Image credit: The photograph of KU graffiti comes from Howard Callihan on Facebook, but I learned of it via Kansas Universities Faculty & Staff Against Regents’ Speech Policy (also on Facebook).

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Kansas Board of Regents, Freedom of Speech, and Bad Faith

Kansas Board of RegentsWhen the Kansas Board of Regents announced its new social media policy on December 18, I thought it must have made a mistake. After all, this Board of Regents had seemed an ally of higher education in Kansas. Unlike previous Boards, this one had — for instance — been asking the Kansas Legislature to fund the state universities in Kansas. Adopting a social media policy that suspended freedom of speech and (in effect) eradicated tenure was surely because the hastily passed proposal was ill-considered. So, I thought: if we let the Board of Regents know how damaging the policy is, then they’ll realize that they’ve made a mistake, withdraw the policy, and start over.

I was wrong.

As emails and subsequent statements to the media have revealed, the Board of Regents crafted the most repressive policy that (it thought) would withstand a legal challenge. Working with State Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the Board created the policy using specific language from United States Supreme Court cases. Then, at its December meeting and over the objections of university faculty and administration present, the Board unanimously passed the new policy.

The policy is not a mistake, but a carefully executed plan to muzzle free speech. This is why the Board passed the policy as faculty and staff were grading exams and preparing to leave town (indeed, many had already left town). This is why, though the policy has been panned with near unanimity from both within and beyond Kansas, the Board is not backing down.

As further evidence, one need look no further than board members’ statements about the plan. Their words are perfect examples of the “political language” that, as George Orwell wrote in “Politics and the English Language” (1946), “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”  In response to the recent letter signed by 81 distinguished professors from KU and KSU, Fred Logan, Chair of the Board of Regents, wrote, “I very respectfully disagree with your apparent assessment that faculty and staff at Kansas universities ‘no longer have freedom of speech, academic freedom . . . , nor tenure.’  I assure you that all three of those items are alive, robust and well.”  His assertion that freedom of speech, academic freedom and tenure “are alive, robust and well” collides with a policy that says faculty and staff can be fired for saying anything “contrary to the best interest of the university” or anything that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers” — a definition so broad and vague as to encompass any speech. Mr. Logan’s statement and the social media policy cannot both be true. Given that he is using his “freedom of speech is alive, robust and well” statement to defend a policy that rescinds freedom of speech, his words are a superb example of language designed to — in Orwell’s words — “give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Another word for this sort of speech is doublespeak.  Yet another word is lie.

Here’s another example. Mr. Logan recently asserted, “The board unanimously approved this policy and did so in good faith,” despite the fact that it approved the policy over the objections of faculty and administration present at the very meeting. As KSU Faculty Senate President Julia Keen (who was present at the meeting) noted on 21 December,

The creation of this policy was done with no input from university faculty or administrators; it was put near the end of an 84-page agenda without notification or announcement.  The Council of Faculty Senate Presidents made a statement at the KBOR meeting on Wednesday, December 18, voicing our concerns about both the content and the timing of the policy change.  We asked that the vote be delayed to a future KBOR meeting to allow for faculty input.  The KBOR chose to proceed with a unanimous vote to pass the policy language.

And yet Mr. Logan says that the Board approved the policy “in good faith.”  Either his definition of “good faith” is so rare as to have eluded the dictionary-makers, or he is again lying.  Based on the available evidence, he appears to be delivering another lie. It’s a very polite lie, but it’s a lie nonetheless.

By failing to act in good faith and dressing its policy in doublespeak, the Kansas Board of Regents no longer deserves the confidence of those it serves. Since the Board itself is not an elected body, I doubt that a vote of no confidence would be persuasive. If the Board is so convinced that its draconian policy is correct that it’s willing to lie about it, then why would it care about a vote of no confidence?

George Orwell, 1984

I hope I’m wrong. I hope the Board of Regents resumes doing its job, which (according to its mission statement) is to “advocate powerfully” for “continuous improvement in the quality and effectiveness of the public postsecondary educational system in Kansas.” Based on its responses thus far, I think it more likely that its next statement to the state universities will be more along the lines of “freedom is slavery.”  Or, given how much freedom of speech seems to frighten the Regents, perhaps it will be “ignorance is strength.”

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