Opinion: Kansas Regents Double Down on Repressive Social Media Policy

The work group who reviewed the policy presented its results and stated the obvious: The policy as written has a chilling effect on open dialogue in academia.

by Barbara Shelly, McClatchy News Service / April 21, 2014

The Kansas Board of Regents appears to be digging in deeper when it comes to curbing freedom of speech on university campuses.

The board ignored faculty and other university employees altogether when it devised a policy late last year which allows universities to discipline or fire employees if comments they make on social media meet overly broad conditions, such as “acting contrary to the best interests of the university.”

After a predictable and justifiable uproar ensued, the board announced the formation of a work group of university faculty and other employees to review the policy.

This week, the work group presented its results and stated the obvious: The policy as written has a chilling effect on open dialogue in academia.

A three-member regents committee, which included Chairman Fred Logan, then confirmed what had been feared on campuses: The work group was windowdressing.

Logan and his committee not only discounted the work of the group, they criticized it.

“I don’t agree this restricts expression,” Logan said of the original policy.

Regent Tim Emert went further. He criticized the work group for recommending a completely different policy, rather than just “corrections” to the original.

“Some place this train got off the tracks,” Emert said, according to a report of the meeting published in the .

One has to wonder why a member of a board governing public universities in Kansas would expect that a group of faculty and university employees would glibly accept a policy and settle for minor corrections. One has to wonder why Emert would even want that kind of shabby work from an academic group.

Logan indicated the regents would likely retain most of the original policy, which faculty on all of its campuses find offensive, but said he would recommend adding language from the work group’s recommendations emphasizing first Amendment protections and academic freedom.

That sounds a lot like selectively using the work group’s report to justify a policy that the group criticized.

Logan also said he wants to include in the policy a 1940 statement by the American Association of University Professors which notes that college teachers “should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations.”

That, too, is selective work. Much more recently than 1940 — just last year, in fact — the American Associate of University Professors issued a statement calling the Kansas Board of Regents social media policy “a gross violation of the fundamental principles of academic freedom.”

The three-member regents committee will present a revised social media policy to the full Board of Regents. What happened this week is far from promising, and raises questions about whether Logan and other of the regents understand, or even care, about the academic values of the universities they are sworn to govern.

©2014 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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