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Kansas universities to enforce social media policy

  • Staff and wire reports
  • Published Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, at 6:31 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Dec. 27, 2013, at 11:47 a.m.

— Public universities in Kansas will be responsible for enforcing a new policy approved by the Kansas Board of Regents that could result in university faculty and staff being fired over improper use of social media.

The regents last week approved a policy that says a university chief executive can discipline employees, up to termination, for social media communications that affect the university’s ability to carry out its functions. The regents approved the measure unanimously in the wake of a tweet by University of Kansas journalism professor David Guth after the September shootings that left 13 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

Guth has apologized for the Twitter posting critical of the National Rifle Association. He was placed on administrative leave but has since returned to work performing administrative duties.

Faculty and education groups have criticized the policy that they say is too broad and will stifle free speech. The regents said the policy follows U.S. Supreme Court rulings on First Amendment rights.

Anthony Vizzini, vice president for academic affairs at Wichita State University, said he has not received e-mails from faculty protesting the policy or asking for further clarification.

But, “I think our faculty will be very much engaged in that discussion” when they return from winter break in January, he said.

“I see it percolating, but not to the level of other universities,” Vizzini said Thursday. “I’m sure our faculty has been paying attention and has concerns, but the timing is a little off because this (policy) happened just as everyone headed out” for the holiday break.

WSU President John Bardo has contacted leaders of the university’s faculty senate “to see what their concerns are,” Vizzini said. “My sense is, the policy is definitely up for discussion and revision.

“I’m hearing both sides, and my hope is that with further discussion and clarification, both sides can understand where those areas of concern are.”

Under the new policy, universities will develop a grievance procedure for faculty and staff to appeal employment decisions. The decision of the chief executive concerning a grievance appeal is not subject to any further administrative review or review from the regents, although any decision can be appealed in court.

Regent Ed McKechnie said the policy wouldn’t stifle academic research but is meant to instill rules on communication on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook “that can be damaging and are instantaneous.”

Contributing: Associated Press and Suzanne Perez Tobias of The Eagle.

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