University of Kansas: Anti-NRA Tweet Results in Professor’s Suspension

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Kansas

On September 16, a few hours after shootings at Washington, D.C.’s Navy Yard, University of Kansas Professor David Guth posted a tweet to his personal Twitter account condemning the National Rifle Association, saying “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” Following substantial public pressure and criticism, including from Kansas state legislators, KU placed Guth on administrative leave on September 20. FIRE wrote to Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little on September 22, pointing out that Guth’s expression was fully protected and that a university investigation into his speech on the basis of its content was not acceptable. Chancellor Gray-Little released a statement to the KU community on September 23, clarifying that Guth’s suspension was not related to the content of his expression, but defended his suspension by claiming it was necessary to prevent further “disruption.”

  • A new argument for hate-speech laws? Um … no

    February 4, 2014

    by Jonathan Rauch at The Washington Post You know, it’s actually kind of refreshing to read a good old-fashioned listener’s-veto critique of the First Amendment. Like sleeve garters, this is not something we see much of anymore. In a recent Daily Beast article, Thane Rosenbaum of Fordham Law School points out that hate speech and the like can cause serious pain and suffering. From there he jumps to the conclusion that such speech should be restricted. “Free speech should not stand in the way of common decency.” Hmm. That’s a big jump, from harm to restriction. Of course homophobic and anti-Semitic expressions hurt […]

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  • Critics challenge Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media policy

    December 24, 2013

    by Brad Cooper Opposition is snowballing against a new policy aimed at how faculty and staff at Kansas universities use social media. Two national education groups have condemned the policy, arguing that it threatens the First Amendment rights and academic freedoms enjoyed by faculty. And faculty are increasingly voicing their opposition to the policy, most recently Monday when 40 distinguished professors at Kansas State University called for the policy to be repealed. “I think this is going to have to be changed,” said Phil Nel, a K-State English professor who signed the letter sent to the Kansas Board of Regents. […]

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  • Why States Need Social Media Policies

    October 29, 2013

    by Melissa Maynard Soon after Indiana Gov. Mike Pence posted a statement on Facebook expressing disappointment in the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage, a long string of comments affirming his support for “traditional marriage” appeared. What was missing: Comments from people who disagreed with his position, which were promptly being deleted. “His staff tried to make it look like he was living in an echo chamber and everyone in Indiana agreed with him,” said Andrew Markle, who, like the governor, is a Republican. Markle launched a website and Facebook account to document what he dubbed “Pencership” – i.e., Pence’s censorship. At first, the […]

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  • KU case shows how backlash from professors’ remarks can inflame politicians

    September 29, 2013

    by Brad Cooper One professor compared terror victims to Nazis. Another suggested the feds toppled the twin towers. A third accused Republicans of raping the country. And the most recent eyebrow-raiser from an ivory tower: The children of gun rights advocates deserve to be taken out in the next mass shooting. The same colleges and universities whose scholars grab unfriendly headlines must look for money from legislatures that often find their views not just provocative, but offensive. That’s exacerbated by campuses perceived to lean left that must seek appropriations from state legislatures that increasingly tilt to the right. Consider the […]

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  • Why the University of Kansas Was Wrong to Suspend Tweeting Professor

    September 25, 2013

    After the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard shootings last week, Professor David Guth of the University of Kansas (KU) sparked national controversy by tweeting the following: "#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you."Predictably, a firestorm of criticism followed. In addition to being lambasted online and in the press, Guth says he has received threats, and state legislators have even called for his firing.As First Amendment Center President Ken Paulson has explained, Guth’s speech is protected by the First Amendment, offensive though many may find […]

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  • Protected tweet?

    September 23, 2013

    by Colleen Flaherty Faculty advocates and free speech experts criticized the University of Kansas Friday after it put a tenured journalism professor on indefinite leave for a controversial tweet he posted in the aftermath of the recent Washington Navy Yard shooting. David W. Guth wrote: “#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” No one denied that the associate professor’s remark was in poor taste. Some experts also said Guth’s comment warranted investigation and condemnation by the the university. But his near-immediate suspension may have violated […]

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  • Kansas Professor’s Suspension Over NRA Tweet Draws Rebuke

    September 23, 2013

    by Jacob Gershman The University of Kansas is coming under fire from a free-speech watchdog group for suspending a journalism professor over his controversial tweets about the National Rifle Association. David Guth, an associate professor of journalism, was put on indefinite administrative leave on Friday for implying on Twitter that he wished violent harm upon the families of the NRA. Hours after last week’s Washington Navy Yard rampage, the professor reportedly tweeted: “#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” A spokesman for the NRA called Mr. […]

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  • KU case shows how backlash from professors’ remarks can inflame politicians

    September 19, 2013

    by Brad Cooper One professor compared terror victims to Nazis. Another suggested the feds toppled the twin towers. A third accused Republicans of raping the country. And the most recent eyebrow-raiser from an ivory tower: The children of gun rights advocates deserve to be taken out in the next mass shooting. The same colleges and universities whose scholars grab unfriendly headlines must look for money from legislatures that often find their views not just provocative, but offensive. That’s exacerbated by campuses perceived to lean left that must seek appropriations from state legislatures that increasingly tilt to the right. Consider the […]

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  • AAUP Conference Highlights Lack of Protection for Faculty Social Media Participation

    June 13, 2014

    Yesterday FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, Will Creeley, and Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program, Peter Bonilla, spoke at the 2014 American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Conference, which featured a series of presentations about university policies on faculty use of social media and other issues affecting academic freedom.

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  • Professor Explains Why Restrictive Social Media Policies Are So Harmful

    May 30, 2014

    As we wrote recently on The Torch, the Kansas Board of Regents has approved a revised social media policy regulating the speech of faculty members at the state’s public colleges and universities. The Board’s decision came despite the fact that the policy has been the subject of much criticism from free speech advocates, including FIRE, due to the fact that it authorizes punishment for constitutionally protected speech and leaves professors uncertain of their expressive rights.

    Oliver Bateman, an attorney and professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, expresses many of the same concerns in an excellent column yesterday for Al Jazeera America.

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  • Kansas Board of Regents Approves Self-Contradictory, Unclear Social Media Policy

    May 15, 2014

    Yesterday afternoon, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a revised policy on the “improper use of social media” by faculty and staff at the state’s public colleges and universities. The widely criticized policy asserts a commitment to freedom of speech yet authorizes punishment for constitutionally protected speech, and it still leaves professors unsure of what speech a university might sanction them for.

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  • Still Digging: Kansas State Board of Regents’ Latest Social Media Policy Remains Flawed

    May 9, 2014

    Way back in January, I wrote a post here on The Torch telling the Kansas State Board of Regents to reacquaint itself with the first rule of holes: If you’re in one, stop digging.

    Unfortunately, the Board didn’t take my advice. So here we are in May, still talking about how the First Amendment rights of faculty members at Kansas’ public universities are threatened by the Board’s deeply flawed attempt to regulate social media. To label this lack of progress “disappointing” would be an understatement.

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  • FIRE Warns Kansas Board of Regents About Inadequate Proposed Social Media Policy Revisions

    May 2, 2014

    Back in December, the Kansas Board of Regents enacted a policy on the “improper use of social media” by employees of Kansas’ public institutions of higher education that put academic freedom at risk. In response to a wave of criticism, the Board created a faculty workgroup to review the policy. The workgroup’s proposed policy released in early March, dropped several problematic provisions of the current policy in favor of broad free speech affirmations and narrow exceptions for punishable conduct. The Board Governance Committee has now drafted its proposed policy revisions in response to the faculty. The proposed revisions include promises of academic freedom but also, problematically, leave in place the overbroad and vague provisions that allow for punishment of constitutionally protected expression.

    FIRE sent a letter yesterday urging the Board to adopt the language of the faculty workgroup policy in order to avoid the serious problems presented by both the current policy and the BGC’s proposal.

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  • Thomas Jefferson Center Announces 2014 ‘Muzzle’ Awards

    April 10, 2014

    Thomas Jefferson’s birthday is on Sunday, and that means it’s time for the “Jefferson Muzzle” awards, granted by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression! Torch readers won’t be surprised to see a few FIRE cases on this year’s list of “winners.”

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  • Kansas Faculty Workgroup Drafts Social Media Policy Affirming First Amendment and Urging Best Practices

    March 4, 2014

    In January, the Kansas Board of Regents created a “workgroup” of public university faculty and staff to review the Board’s controversial new policy on “improper use of social media.” Recognizing the serious threat that some of the Board’s provisions pose to protected expression, the workgroup vowed to do more rewriting than reviewing, and yesterday they delivered.

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  • KU Senate Urges Kansas Board of Regents to Suspend Controversial Social Media Policy

    February 10, 2014

    Last month, the Kansas Board of Regents denied a faculty group’s request for the suspension of the Board’s controversial and overbroad social media policy while that policy was being reviewed. Now the University of Kansas (KU) Senate has approved a resolution reiterating that the policy “infringes on the right to freedom of expression” and should be suspended pending review. As Torch readers may recall, the policy, passed in December, allows the chief executive officer of a university to fire a faculty member if he or she posts anything on social media that “impairs … harmony among co-workers” or is, in […]

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  • Kansas Faculty Workgroup Plans to Rewrite Overbroad Policy

    January 27, 2014

    Earlier this month, the Kansas Board of Regents created a “workgroup” to review its overbroad and vague new policy on “improper use of social media” by faculty at Kansas public colleges and universities. As my colleague Will Creeley reported last Thursday, the Board refused to suspend the policy during review, leaving faculty still at risk of being fired for posts that “impair[] … harmony among co-workers” or are “contrary to the best interest of the university,” among other things. But happily, the workgroup has already shown greater respect for faculty free speech rights—the Lawrence Journal-World reported Friday that the group plans to “disregard th[e] policy and […]

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  • Hey, Kansas Board of Regents: Remember the First Rule of Holes…

    January 23, 2014

    Last week, Peggy Lowe of Kansas City public radio station KCUR reported that the Kansas Board of Regents has denied a faculty group’s request that the Board immediately suspend the frighteningly broad social media policy it imposed system-wide late last December. This latest headscratcher is conclusive proof that the Board has entirely forgotten the first rule of holes: When you find yourself in one, stop digging. Surely Torch readers remember this gem of a speech code—but if you need a refresher, this is the one that allows for the firing of a professor whose post on Twitter “impairs … harmony among co-workers” or whose Facebook […]

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  • Pittsburg State President Unintentionally Concedes Problem with Kansas Social Media Policy

    January 13, 2014

    Facing mounting criticism that its new policy on “improper use of social media” endangers not justacademic freedom but potentially also the University of Kansas’s accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, the Kansas Board of Regents is continuing with its plan to form a “workgroup” that will review the policy. Faculty rights advocates are concerned about the policy’s broad and vaguely-worded prohibitions on, among other things, “impair[ing] harmony among co-workers” or making a communication that is, according to a university’s CEO’s judgment, “contrary to the best interest of the university.” And in trying to alleviate faculty concerns, Pittsburg State University (PSU) President Steve Scott has illustrated exactly why […]

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  • Do Kansas Regents’ New Social Media Restrictions Threaten Accreditation?

    January 9, 2014

    Professor Susan Twombly, chairwoman of the University of Kansas’ (KU’s) Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, believes that the Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media restrictions on faculty threatened the accreditation of KU. Why? The Lawrence Journal-World (Kan.) reports: Her concerns largely center on one of the criteria for accreditation through the HLC, which requires that the university be “committed to freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning,” as stated in an HLC accreditation guide. Another component requires the university to establish and follow “fair and ethical policies for its governing board, administration, faculty and staff.” […]

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  • Kansas Board of Regents to Review Controversial Social Media Policy

    January 2, 2014

    The Kansas Board of Regents announced Tuesday that it will create a “workgroup” to review the new policy on “improper use of social media” by faculty that has earned a steady stream of criticism from academic freedom advocates since it was adopted two weeks ago. FIRE, the ACLU of Kansas, and the National Coalition Against Censorship sent a joint letter (PDF) to the Board on December 20, urging a repeal of the policy. As we noted in our letter, the policy puts protected faculty speech at risk for censorship or punishment because it is both overbroad and vague. The Board’s new statement says: Because of concerns expressed regarding the Board of […]

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  • ‘Slate’ Slams Kansas Board of Regents’ Outrageous New Social Media Policy

    December 24, 2013

    As a Torch reader, you’re probably already familiar with the controversial new social media policy adopted last week by the Kansas Board of Regents that empowers public universities in the state to terminate faculty whose speech in social media, among other things, “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers” or “is contrary to the best interest of the university,” whatever that means in practice. Yesterday, Slate columnist Rebecca Schuman joined the chorus of critics condemning the policy. In her column, titled “The Brave New World of Academic Censorship,” Schuman explains the tremendous threat this policy poses to professors’ academic freedom and free speech. She writes: This new policy will effectively […]

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  • FIRE, ACLU of Kansas, and NCAC Send Letter to Kansas Board of Regents; Board Hints at Changes

    December 23, 2013

    On Friday, FIRE, the ACLU Foundation of Kansas, and the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC) sent a joint letter (PDF) to the Kansas Board of Regents urging the Board to rescind its controversial new policy restricting the use of social media by faculty and staff at public colleges and universities across the state. Among other things, the policy allows for a professor’s employment to be terminated when his or her speech “impairs … harmony among co-workers” or if, in the sole opinion of a university’s chief executive officer, the speech is “contrary to the best interest of the university.” After a wave of criticism (PDF) from […]

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  • FIRE, AAUP Express Alarm Over New Kansas Social Media Policy

    December 20, 2013

    The Kansas Board of Regents adopted a new policy Wednesday that subjects faculty and staff speech on social media to vaguely-worded and broad restrictions. The nine-member board approved the policy, which governs dozens of colleges and universities across Kansas, with little, if any, input from professors. While a press release issued by the Board claims that the policy relies on language from the U.S. Supreme Court and has been approved by the state attorney general, professors and civil libertarians have pointed to several aspects of the policy that put professors’ First Amendment rights at risk. The policy change comes in the wake of the controversy surrounding […]

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  • U. of Kansas Professor Assigned to Non-Classroom Duties

    October 28, 2013

    The University of Kansas (KU) released a statement last Thursday that David Guth, the professor who was put on administrative leave after a controversial tweet last month, will not return to teaching in the classroom this year. Instead, “Guth has been assigned additional non-classroom responsibilities … including various service and administrative assignments” which “will be completed away from campus to the greatest extent possible.” The statement explains the decision, which was made by seven members of the faculty and staff: “The committee conducted a full review, and their input was instrumental in arriving at this decision,” Gray-Little said. “Our decisions throughout this situation […]

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  • U. of Kansas Faculty, Staff Declare Support for Suspended Professor’s First Amendment Rights

    October 3, 2013

    As FIRE’s Peter Bonilla reported yesterday, 13 faculty members of the University of Kansas (KU) journalism department released a disappointing statement supporting the university’s suspension of journalism professor David Guth after he posted a controversial statement on Twitter regarding the National Rifle Association and September’s Navy Yard shootings. Thankfully, more than 100 current and former KU staff and faculty members have recognized the importance of freedom of expression and have signed on to a declaration of support for Guth’s First Amendment rights. The statement reads: As members of the faculty and staff of the University of Kansas, the undersigned individuals […]

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  • On Professor’s Suspension at KU, Journalism Faculty Get Free Speech Wrong, Anthropology Faculty Get It Right

    October 2, 2013

    Recently, FIRE’s Will Creeley took to The Huffington Post  to explain why the University of Kansas significantly erred in suspending journalism professor David Guth, who became a lightning rod of controversy following a controversial tweet in the aftermath of September’s Navy Yard shootings. FIRE wrote to KU on September 22; KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little released a statement attempting to mollify the situation. While Gray-Little clarified that the suspension was “not because of the nature of the professor’s comments,” she nonetheless justified it by stating that it was imposed “to avoid further disruption of the learning environment. As Will pointed out, […]

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  • The University of Kansas Controversy: Defending the Freedom to Tweet

    September 23, 2013

    University of Kansas (KU) Professor David Guth made news last week for the following tweet in the wake of the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard: “#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” Considering the tenor of the statement, outrage predictably ensued. Among the outraged are some members of the Kansas legislature, at least one of whom has plainly stated that he will not “support any budget proposals or recommendations for the University of Kansas” as long as Guth remains employed […]

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