The Kansas Board of Regents overreacted in December by making “improper use of social media” a potential firing offense for faculty members. The work group it later created to reconsider that policy has found a better approach – emphasizing academic freedom and free speech while encouraging “responsible use” of existing and emerging communications technologies.
The group members, drawn from faculty and staff of the six state universities, are gathering suggestions about their draft recommendations. The Wichita State University link is http://webapps.wichita.edu/social-media/social_media.aspx.
Where the regents’ sweeping statewide policy allows firing if, among other so-called offenses, a social media communication “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers” or “adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services,” the work group recommends that each university adopt guidelines reminding employees “that their authorship of content on social media may violate existing law or policy and may be addressed through university disciplinary processes.” It also quotes a statement of principles from the American Association of University Professors saying that employees “should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.” If only a University of Kansas journalism professor had considered that guidance last fall before posting the anti-NRA tweet that sparked the controversy and led to the regents’ overreaching policy.
The regents will review the work group’s recommendations in April. They should follow the group’s lead in affirming academic freedom and appealing to employees’ professionalism and judgment.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman