Free-Speech Case Finds KU And K-State On Opposite Sides

July 11, 2015

By Mara Rose Williams at Kansas City Star

Kansas’ two biggest universities find themselves in opposite camps in a possibly pivotal case that pits the limits of free speech against educators’ efforts to protect students from sexual harassment.

It holds national implications and tests how far a school can, or must, go in order to police off-campus conduct and the virtual world of social media.

The case, set to play out Tuesday in oral arguments before the state Court of Appeals in Topeka, could determine whether colleges end up in the business of policing students’ Twitter accounts and the like.

Its precedent-setting potential has grabbed the attention of First Amendment watchdogs such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Inc., the Student Press Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

All three, along with Kansas State University, have filed friend-of-the-court briefs opposing the University of Kansas. KU is appealing a lower court’s ruling against the school for expelling a student over off-campus tweets.

“It is an early case and potentially influential for other court cases that might follow,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center.

Neither KU nor K-State attorneys would comment on the case beyond briefs they already had filed. But officials in Lawrence argue they are following federal law that says they’re obligated to protect students from harassment. In Manhattan, administrators argue that a school’s reach is largely limited to campus...

Schools: Kansas State University University of Kansas