More on Sam Houston State’s Social Media Policy from SPLC

By October 20, 2011

A few weeks ago, we announced via a national press release that a professor at Sam Houston State University (SHSU) used a box cutter to cut an insult against President Obama out of a "free speech wall" promoted by four student organizations. FIRE had learned that the free speech wall was erected with permission from SHSU, in order to protest a proposed new social media policy. But when the students called the campus police after the professor’s act of censorship, an officer demanded instead that the students censor the wall or else face criminal charges for having offended the professor.

Yesterday, the Student Press Law Center  (SPLC) ran an important news flash disseminating the details of SHSU’s proposed social media policy, and why students were inclined to protest it. SPLC staff writer Peter Velz explained:

The Southeast Texas school started rolling out in September its Social Media Universe, a portal to department and student organization social media pages that have applied for inclusion on the site. But proposed policies accompanying the portal have raised concern among students over broad language that could remove some control from those who the run organization pages.

According to the proposed policy, groups applying for inclusion in the portal must disclose to university marketing staff the login and password information for social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The university reserves the right to "edit and delete content as appropriate," which has caught the attention of students who would be affected.

Several student leaders at SHSU had reservations about the document, including Cristan Shamburger, president of the Bearcat Democrats group.

Shamburger specifically objected to language in the guidelines that give the university the right to add new restrictions "without reservation or obligation to defend the action."

Velz also explained that those responsible for the new Social Media Universe have taken the concern into account:

Kristina Ruiz, associate vice president of marketing and communication, was tasked with uniting different university-affiliated social media sites about a year ago. She stressed work on the policy is ongoing and a small part of a larger program.

Ruiz said the soft launch of the Social Media Universe prompted criticism and "a lot of misconception," adding the proposed policy is just that: proposed. Despite wording in the policy, Ruiz said student groups are not required to join the site. The draft document currently has several steps to overcome before the university can formally adopt it.

Ruiz is forming a committee to address concerns from delegates of the faculty senate, student government and various colleges at the school. She said she would also like someone with "credentialed experience in free speech to sit on the committee."

Velz also pointed to FIRE’s concern with the incident, noting that the student group SHSU Lovers of Liberty and FIRE were hosting the seminar "Free Speech on Campus: Liberty in Peril" on campus just yesterday evening, featuring our own Adam Kissel. Also according to Velz’s article, President Gibson was scheduled to attend a forum in early November to further discuss the proposed policy because of remaining concerns among students.

Schools: Sam Houston State University