Kansas Board of Regents Approves Vague and Overbroad Social Media Policy

Category: Free Speech
Schools: University of Kansas

In December 2013, the Kansas Board of Regents enacted a broad and vague system-wide speech code restricting “improper use of social media” by faculty and staff, which included a provision authorizing punishment for expression considered “contrary to the best interest of the university,” or that “impairs … harmony among co-workers.” Joined by the ACLU of Kansas and the National Coalition Against Censorship, FIRE wrote to the Board on December 20 to express its concerns with the policy. A faculty workgroup created by the Board proposed revisions that would have protected faculty speech rights while allowing universities to punish unprotected speech. Despite overwhelming support from Kansas faculty and a May 1, 2014, letter from FIRE encouraging the Board to adopt the workgroup’s draft, the Board rejected the workgroup’s language in favor of its own revisions, which failed to address key provisions that continue to endanger faculty’s academic freedom and expressive rights.

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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 just academic 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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