By Eric Smith at cjonline.com
The Kansas Board of Regents’ controversial social media policy has landed the board on a nonprofit’s list of educational institutions with the worst regard for free speech rights.
Monday’s “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech in 2014” list by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education chides the Regents for “enacting an overly broad policy on the improper use of social media.”
FIRE’s annual “worst of the worst” list includes two institutions that aren’t colleges — the Kansas board and the U.S. Department of Education. The list is critical of “the profound effect they had on campus expression throughout the country last year.”
Under the Regents policy, universities can let faculty go if they use social media in a way that is “contrary to the best interest of the university.” The Regents adopted the policy in December 2013 after The University of Kansas professor David Guth’s Twitter post about the Washington Navy Yard shootings, which killed a dozen people.
“The blood is on the hands of the #NRA,” Guth wrote. “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”
The policy was revised in May 2014 to add language referencing First Amendment rights, but those critical of the policy say revisions didn’t go far enough to protect free-speech rights.
“Nothing has changed since May 2014,” said Breeze Richardson, a Regents spokeswoman. “To continue to repeat the policy does X, Y and Z is misleading because it doesn’t mandate anything happen. The reality is those who don’t like the policy don’t like the law.”
Also on FIRE’s list of worst abusers of student and faculty free speech rights are Brandeis University; California State University, Fullerton; Chicago State University; Georgetown University; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; University of Iowa; Marquette University; and Modesto (Calif.) Junior College.
“Our colleges and universities are supposed to be where students go to debate and explore new ideas,” said FIRE president Greg Lukianoff. “But too often on the modern college campus, students and their professors find their voices silenced by administrators who would rather they be absent from the often contentious marketplace of ideas. When this happens, FIRE will be there to call out these reckless censors.”
FIRE claims more than half of the top U.S. colleges maintain speech codes that violate the First Amendment.
Richardson pointed out that Kansas recently was ranked No. 1 among states in graduation rates for students who start at a two-year college and complete their degree at a four-year institution. The report — which was released last week — comes from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
Kansas had the highest graduation rate at 25 percent for such cases, followed by Virginia at 23 percent. The national average is 16 percent.