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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Enlightenment vs. Ignorance

Freedom of Speech is under attack in “public” higher education, from the Kansas Board of Regents deeming any speech a fireable offense, to the South Carolina Legislature cutting funds from the College of Charleston (in retaliation for recommending Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home as a summer read). Offering a more subtle version of the South Carolina model, Tennessee Senator Stacey Campfield is sponsoring two bills, one which would tell the university how it should apportion student fees, and another which would prohibit the university from using any of its funds to pay outside speakers.

State Senator Stacey Campfield, of TennesseeWhat inspired these bills?  Senator Campfield is apparently upset that the University of Tennessee sponsors a sex education week. Last year, he threatened to pull all public funding for the university if the event received any financial support from the university. So, in 2014, he’s offering this more insidious twist on the original idea; no university funds for any speaker. His vigorous attack on free speech is just the latest from a publicity-seeking legislator who maintains a public blog but warns that it is private and that any quotation from it will be charged at $1000 per word.  You will not be surprised to learn that the students and faculty oppose this attack on their rights.  You also will not be surprised to learn that Senator Campfield is not an especially agile thinker — as this email exchange between him and Professor Misty G. Anderson (of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville) demonstrates.


On Mar 8, 2014, at 10:04 AM, Misty G. Anderson wrote:

Dear Senators,

I write to you as a parent of a college student as well as a middle schooler, as a Tennessean, and as a teacher to ask you to oppose SB1608 and SB2493. These bills are far too sweeping and undermine the project of inquiry, First Amendment rights, and the kind of professional development we try to offer our students at UT.  Just this academic year, for instance, we were able to host Tom Brokaw.  Two of my students had the opportunity to interview him about his career as a journalist, and he was generous with both his advice and time.  This was a crucial professional development opportunity that would have been completely unavailable to them under the terms of these bills.

Students at UT have chances to weigh in on what kinds of speakers and activities take place, they have chances to participate in a wide array of learning opportunities, and to debate with significant voices in a range of cultural conversations: novelists, political scientists, religious leaders, philosophers, business innovators, and more.  That is as it should be.  It’s part of the strength of our American education system, and it encourages students to debate, develop their perspectives, and become better citizens. Please don’t take that away from them.

I realize, Senator Campfield, that you are the sponsor of both of these bills, but I’m including you in my appeal nonetheless. I urge you especially to reconsider your position and to consider the free and secure future of UT.

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.  I will be watching with great interest to see how you all vote, and I implore you to vote down both bills.

Sincerely,

Misty Anderson

Knoxville, TN


On Mar 8, 2014, at 11:04 AM, Stacey Campfield wrote:

While I support diversity of thought at the university. What is currently in place is not diversity. Sadly, when you look at a list of the paid speakers for the university the vast majority are from one point of view and balancing points of view are minimized.

Truly, more balance is needed.  The current committee that decides who gets funding is @35-4  from one point of view. And they fund accordingly. The current system also does not allow for changes to the committee because new members to the committee are picked by the current members on the committee. It is impossible for diverse points of view to get a fair hearing. Instead, It is “two lions and a lamb deciding on what to have for dinner.” That is not a system that creates a diverse menu. In fact it eats the minority points of view.

To make sure all points of view get a fair opportunity to be funded I have proposed two bills.

The first would say all fees for optional political type speakers should be optional to join or not. No one should be forced to pay for speech they find objectionable. Current student tuition and fees are high enough. People are graduating in incredible debt. There is no need to heap insult on top of injury. If they wish to hear speakers let them decide by joining and paying the speakers fee. If not, they should not be forced to do what they find objectionable. Forced speech is not free speech. It is the oposite.

As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said I couldn’t agree more.

Next,

If a student wishes to pay the optional student activity fee for speakers then those fees should be dolled out on a fair basis so all points of view get a fair hearing. To do this, I think the best way is to allow the students themselves to decide by joining clubs that interest them and allowing funding to be dolled out on membership basis. That way, if say college Democrats have 50 members and college Republicans have 50 members both would receive a fair share of the funding. If it were to tilt to 60/40 democrat leaning, the democrats would receive a larger proportion but not a 100% per portion. Diverse points of view would be heard and have a fair shot at receiving funding.

As I have said from the beginning, I still stand ready to negotiate the system details but leaving things as they currently are is a non starter. We need diversity of thought and not tyranny in action.

Yours in service,

Sen. Stacey Campfield


On Mar 8, 2014, at 12:12 PM, Misty G. Anderson wrote:

Dear Senator Campfield,

With all due respect, I had a hard time following your reply because it was full of sentence fragments that did not make clear how one idea flowed from and logically gave rise to another.

Your claim that the current committee is “35-4 from one point of view” is a mystery to me.  What is that one point of view? And how is it that you can claim that the vast majority of speakers on campus are “from one point of view” when they have addressed so many different issues and topics? How can one say that points of view are to be calculated? Most thinking people hold a range of points of view on many subjects.  Are you alluding to two-party politics? If so, I would submit that such a designation hardly summarizes all possible points of view, and to imagine a world where it does is deeply disturbing to me as a citizen and an educator.

You then say that all fees “for optional political type speakers should be optional.” How are we to determine what speakers are political and which speakers are not?  Was Tom Brokaw political? Is a visiting novelist like Elizabeth Gilbert political?  How would we calculate the “interest” represented by such speakers? I would hate to restrict that representation to the number of journalists or novelists in the student body. The bill pertains to all speakers, who can hardly be screened only on their party affiliation.  But on that subject, let me offer an analogous question: I often find your speech objectionable, yet my tax dollars fund your salary.  May I opt out of paying the portion of your salary that I pay, particularly since your speech is not only objectionable to me but has binding consequences on my life as a citizen, unlike open debates in which I can choose to participate or not?

What was it that Thomas Jefferson said?  Because that sentence is actually a fragment and not a complete sentence, it is not at all clear.  I am  not being a mere grammarian about this fact; it is significant because it is fundamental to clear meaning. Thomas Jefferson said many things I cherish as examples of wise and thoughtful statesmanship, in spite of his actions as a slaveholder.  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • “I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.”
  • “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people.  They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
  • “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”
  • “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.”

I would hope that we could find a zone of agreement on this important Enlightenment thinker, who was a staunch supporter of both education and free speech.

To conclude, I am writing back to you because I am distressed both by your approach to micromanaging the process of speakers at UT and other universities and your failure to comprehend the consequences of your own bills, which seem to have more in common with a totalitarian nation’s approach, rather than a free country’s approach, to public discourse.  Curiously, you claim the opposite is true, calling the current system “forced speech” and even “tyranny in action.”  But you, sir, are the one in the governing position.  I would suggest you reconsider the language of tyranny and how it reflects on your own position in the legislature.

Sincerely,

Misty G. Anderson


On Mar 8, 2014, at 12:49 PM, Stacey Campfield wrote:

Thomas Jefferson so eloquently said “To compel a man to furnish money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical”


On Mar 8, 2014, Misty G. Anderson’s final reply to Sen. Stacey Campfield:

Dear Senator Campfield,

Context, so often, is everything.  The short quotation you have pulled is from Jefferson’s 1779 Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (not passed until 1786), which was an argument for more free speech, as well as freedom of religion, by prohibiting the state support of the clergy and state tests for office based on religion or lack thereof. Accordingly, it proposed that “the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical” not “assume dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible.”  Jefferson’s own position as a Deist inclined him strongly to realize that both the state and the church can conspire to compel and restrict speech and behavior in ways that are an anathema to free people.  I quote the 3 sections of the act for your convenience, with some of the more relevant selections bolded:

 SECTION I. Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous falacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

SECT. II. WE the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

SECT. III. AND though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Best,

Misty G. Anderson


As added context for Sen. Stacey Campfield’s understanding of “tyrannical,” one might point out that the senator has also proposed legislation banning public school teachers from using the word “gay,” and legislation tying Welfare payments to a child’s grades in school. He is a man of many unusual ideas. Here is another:

Senator Stacey Campfield explains HIV/AIDS

Given statements like this, one imagines that Sen. Campfield might benefit from attending some of the University of Tennessee’s sex education events.

Further information & actions:

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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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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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Kansas Board of Regents Revokes Right to Freedom of Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Edwin Mellen Effect

Edwin Mellen Press

 

It’s Opposites Day at The Chronicle of Higher Education. The headline reads, “Edwin Mellen Press Drops Lawsuit Against University Librarian.”

Chronicle's Misleading Headline

The article reports that Edwin Mellen Press has withdrawn the suit against McMaster University and Dale Askey, BUT Edwin Mellen Press is still suing Dale Askey.  Beyond the fact that the Chronicle should have let its readers know it was celebrating Opposites Day, this development raises several questions about the allegedly scholarly press known as Edwin Mellen Press.

  1. The news release’s internal contradictions are remarkable.  Without any irony whatsoever, Edwin Mellen Press in its press release says that “EMP remains resolute that all have the right to free speech.”  How is suing a librarian for $1 million an affirmation of that principle?  For that matter, how did suing Lingua Franca over its characterization of Edwin Mellen Press uphold “the right to free speech”?  This doesn’t make any sense.  And when you follow that claim about “right to free speech” in the very next sentence with “all have the right to take steps, including legal action, to protect their good names and reputation,” you’re reminding your audience that Edwin Mellen Press launches lawsuits at its critics in order to shut them up.  So, not a very effective piece of rhetoric.
  2. Even before Edwin Mellen Press launched this suit, it did not have a “good reputation.”  As Timothy A. Lepcyzk pointed out at EduHacker, when Edwin Mellen Press launched this suit against Askey, punching the words “Edwin Mellen Press” into Google would elicit the following suggestions: “edwin mellen press quality,” “edwin mellen press review,” “edwin mellen press reputation,” “edwin mellen press vanity,” “edwin mellen press vanity press.”  Edwin Mellen’s news release speaks of “EMP’s good reputation” and of the right to protect that reputation.  However, it didn’t have a good reputation when it filed this suit, and its reputation has only declined since then.
  3. You can’t erase the internet.  When you punch the publisher’s name into Google now, you get these automatic suggestions:  ”edwin mellen press,” “edwin mellen press reputation,” “edwin mellen press review,” and “edwin mellen press vanity.”  Below that, the first hit is the press’s website, but all other hits are other websites, each of which reference the press’s litigious behavior.  There are scores of articles on the Press, and they’re not flattering.  Did it seek to cement its reputation as a litigious bully or further delegitimize its allegation that it’s a “scholarly press” (a claim made in its latest press release)?  If so, then it has succeeded.  If it had other aims, it’s failed.Google: Edwin Mellen Press Vanity
  4. If the press cannot manage its own damage control, what does that say about its publicity department?  If dropping one suit (but not the other) was an attempt to control some of the damage that Edwin Mellen Press has inflicted on itself, it has instead inspired further speculation about its incompetence.  As Rick Anderson notes in his really nice close-reading of the Mellen news release, the publisher’s behavior “is simply bizarre.”
  5. This isn’t over yet.  Sign the petition!  There are currently over 3100 names on the petition.  Let’s keep those numbers rising.
  6. Finally, the Streisand Effect should be renamed the Edwin Mellen Effect. This PR debacle that the press has chosen to inflict upon itself will, I suspect, ultimately result in its undoing.  Its attempts to silence its critics have only amplified those critics’ voices.

More information on Edwin Mellen Press & Its Attempts to Silence Its Critics:

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