Freedom of Speech in Kansas: What Next?

Committee for Harmony, Loyalty, and DisciplineIn light of the Kansas Board of Regents’ decision to double down on its repressive social media policy, people keep asking me: What next?

First, we may have lost this battle, but that doesn’t mean we’ll lose the war. In any case, opposing injustice does not mean that you’re going to win every time. The Kansas Board of Regents have established themselves as enemies of freedom of speech, and of higher education. They don’t feel compelled to listen to the faculty and staff they ostensibly govern, but governance without consent of the governed doesn’t work well in the long term. Stable governance requires credibility. The Board has abdicated its credibility and its responsibility.

Second, the policy remains so absurdly broad that we can either muzzle ourselves or keep speaking up. I’m not particularly good at muzzling myself. (Have you noticed?) And I’m not going to waste my time policing my speech for its loyalty, its harmonious content, its ability to impede discipline, or whether it furthers the “best interests of the university.”

hourglassThird, time is our most precious resource. The Regents have wasted thousands of hours of our time. It’s now clear that they convened the workgroup merely to offer themselves cover for their assault on academic freedom. They can say: See? We followed procedure. We listened to the workgroup. Look! Here’s their language in our policy!  What they don’t say, of course, is that they’re merely stapling language affirming academic freedom onto a policy that revokes academic freedom. To waste so much time simply to create a rhetorical cover story is unforgivable. It’s also very clever — they’ve played us well. We assumed they’d act in good faith, when they have never had any interest in acting in good faith. In acting in bad faith and wasting our time, they’ve revealed their true colors. And they’ve persuaded thousands of faculty and staff members that they should never trust the Regents again.

Fourth, back when the Regents announced this policy, I began de-affiliating myself from Kansas State University in all of my social media profiles. It would be too labor-intensive to remove all references to Kansas State University from my blog, but I altered this blog’s “About Philip Nel” page so that it redacts the university’s name. I removed the @KState tag from my Twitter account, deleted Kansas State University from my Facebook page, from my GooglePlus account, and from my Amazon.com author page. I will ask my publishers to remove references to Kansas State University from my future published work, and have stopped providing it for the “About the author” section of any articles I publish. I’ll never be able to fully dissociate my public self from my employer: a quick Google search will reveal where I work, and, when I give a talk, promotional materials invariably name my employer. However, I’ll do my best to minimize my public connection to Kansas State University.

Books written or edited by Philip Nel, as of 2013In the past, Kansas State University’s Division of Communications and Marketing have appreciated it when my work was cited in the media, or when I’ve appeared in the media, or when something I’d written received media attention. Indeed, because I’ve known this, I’ve always asked that my affiliation with Kansas State University be mentioned. And I’ve let them know about any such media attention. But I’ve stopped letting them know about my accomplishments. A book of mine recently won some awards; another has been nominated for a different award. I’ve added those accolades to my CV (which, yes, also identifies my university affiliation), but have otherwise kept that information to myself. And, when interviewed by the media, I will ask that I be identified as the author of whatever the most relevant of my books might be (Dr. Seuss: American Icon for a story on Seuss, say). If universities in Kansas want to benefit from social media, then they’ll need a social media policy that affirms academic freedom.

In any case, if I work for a place where everything I say in public can be used as grounds for my dismissal, then why would I want to be known as a Kansas State University Professor? People will pity me because I work at a place where freedom of speech is no longer allowed. I don’t want to be pitied. I have a reputation to protect, too.

Fifth, there is much that Kansas universities can do to protect faculty and staff against the tyranny of the Regents. We can adopt our own social media policies, modeled on the workgroup’s excellent revision — policies that affirm academic freedom rather than police the content of speech. And we can find creative ways to resist. For example, what the heck would loyal, harmonious, disciplined speech look like? The Regents have declined to offer examples of either appropriate speech or inappropriate speech. Why not have a contest, calling for creative responses (fiction, poetry, non-fiction, drama) to this puzzling question?  We could make it a statewide event, and publish the winners. It could even be an annual contest.  Another example: we could have one day each semester on which everyone sends out via social media a provocative idea. We can use Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Pinterest, or whatever the current social media platform is. We could send out provocative ideas from any discipline. It would be fun and educational. Yet another example: what about a conference in which we invite people from other places where academic freedom has been under attack (South Carolina, Colorado, Saskatchewan, etc.)?  That’d be a great way to educate people about freedom of speech.

There are many possibilities!

In light of Wednesday’s decision, we — the faculty, staff, students of Kansas universities — are demoralized. We are down. But we are not out. This fight is not over. It is just beginning.

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Impairing Discipline and Harmony; or, This Morning’s Twitter-chat with the Kansas Board of Regents

Ignorance is strength.

The Kansas Board of Regents’ Twitter account and I had a somewhat predictable conversation this morning. For any who find might it interesting, I include it below. The short version: The Kansas Board of Regents insists that academic freedom is now protected; however, sections 3.ii and 3.iv (see p. 32 of agenda) continue to contradict that claim.

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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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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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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.

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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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Kansas, the banana republic

It’s an anti-free speech manifesto that sounds like a pronouncement from the government of a banana republic.

The Board of Regents truly should back up, take a deep breath, and decide on something that meets the needs of its great universities.

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

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

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


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


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

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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.

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

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