At Sam Houston State University, Debate Over New Social Media Policy Rages On

By September 28, 2011

Sam Houston State University’s (SHSU’s) proposed Social Media Policy and Procedures Manual is receiving anything but a warm welcome from students on campus. Opposition to the proposition has emerged in the form of protests planned today for the campus’ mall area, with the main event being a "censored free speech wall" that Morgan Freeman, president of the SHSU Lovers of Liberty, describes as being "basically a free speech wall but we are going to cover up ‘profane’ things." Groups protesting the new social media policy include the SHSU Lovers of Liberty, Young Democratic-Socialists, Bearkat Democrats, and the College Republicans-the same sponsoring groups of the free speech wall vandalized by SHSU professor Joe Kirk.

The proposed policy has the potential to restrict the free speech of student organizations, as those that choose to join SHSU’s "Social Universe" could be subject to censorship by the university. Student groups may voluntarily "opt-in" to the Social Universe, but the policy’s restrictions are anything but optional: the Manual states that "SHSU has trademarked ‘Sam Houston State University,’ ‘SHSU,’ and affiliated terms. As such, only members of the Official Community will be allowed to use identify themselves [sic] with the University’s name in social media."

SHSU’s associate vice-president of Marketing and Communications, Kris Ruiz, recognizes the concerns of the university community in a Houstonian article by Stephen Green. "We encourage those in our university community to share their opinions and any ideas for improvement," Ruiz said. "We want this very powerful tool to work for us all. I understand there are some concerns regarding some of the language in the social media policy." Freeman explains these concerns, noting that "To place any limit on [the exchange of ideas] would violate the ultimate purpose of the university, [which is] to educate and promote this exchange of ideas."

Jamie Herbert, provost and vice-president of Academic Affairs, most directly addresses the potentially problematic Manual by reassuring students that "Anything that remotely infringes on First Amendment rights or academic freedom will be carefully scrutinized by all appropriate administrative channels." FIRE hopes that this sort of "careful scrutiny" will allow the SHSU administration to realize how its proposed Manual would stifle free discourse on campus.                    

Schools: Sam Houston State University Cases: Sam Houston State University: Faculty Member Takes Box Cutter to Students’ Free Speech Wall; Police Threaten Students with Misdemeanor