Deborah A. Gordon: Regents should step back on social media policy

05/21/2014 12:00 AM

05/20/2014 5:31 PM

We have a social media policy for Kansas community colleges and universities thrown together under Kansas Board of Regents governance. As a May 14 Eagle editorial noted, the obvious problem with the policy isn’t what it includes from the regents’ social media working group – the cut-and-paste job of language about the First Amendment. It’s what the policy retains – the will to discipline, sanction and terminate with the power to determine which tweets are and are not in the “best interests” of the university vested in the “chief executive officer.”

One of the things we do at universities is contest for the “best interests” of the university.

It’s kind of like spitting in the wind to try to monitor or gag expression in the context of the electronic communications environment. The discursive habits of our age are all about freewheeling exchange. Twitter is democracy in action, which leads me to wonder: Where are we going to find those with a penchant for control to advise the CEO on separating the “wheat” from the “chafe” of contentious faculty tweets? People who don’t use social media in their teaching and research and to connect with their academic fields?

Will Kansas universities now have Social Media Advisory Councils, where we have to gain permission to tweet? I think I’m being facetious, but everyone knows that even faculty can use bureaucracy for less-than-reasonable purposes. We don’t need administrators to “divide and conquer,” as we’re very capable of horizontal hostility from the highbrow to the weird.

Apparently, it was just this human weakness and governance mission creep that inspired the Founding Fathers to create the distinctly American concept of civil liberties. “Trust us” is not a sign or producer of a healthy political culture. Neither is a system that says: “I don’t have to be you, but if I’m not, maybe you get to discipline, sanction or terminate me.”

Or is it freedom for the well-heeled and a politically organized nanny state for the rest of us? Is the policy essentially in abeyance until a legislator doesn’t like your tweet and pressures the Board of Regents, which then advises the CEO to discipline you?

When you’re in a big rush to make policy under pressure, this is where you end up. You convince yourself that those who disagree with you are confrontational, ridiculous or paranoid.

The regents should take a step back this summer and let go of what is bad about this policy.

This viewpoint does not represent Wichita State University, the Board of Regents, the Legislature or any of their attorneys.

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