Northern Policy Could Affect How Social Media Is Used

June 26, 2014

By Ralph Chapoco at Rio Grande Sun

 Northern New Mexico College wants to implement a social media policy that parallels what the Kansas Board of Regents passed earlier this year. The Regent’s policy has been controversial and civil rights groups have challenged it on First Amendment grounds.

The policy could penalize students, faculty and staff for posts they make on sites such as Twitter, Facebook and various other blogs the college believes are harmful to its educational mission.

This includes personal social media sites and not just sites affiliated with the college.

Northern’s Vice President of Institutional Advancement Ricky Serna defends the need to have a policy.

He said he believes that posting disparaging comments about the college damages the school in myriad ways and hinders its ability to provide education to its students.

“When we have faculty and staff that misrepresent information on purpose, we need to have a policy to lean on that says that you are making a conscious attempt to damage the reputation of this institution because you know that the information that you are putting out in the general public is inaccurate, is untruthful and it’s also creating an environment that doesn’t allow the institution as a whole to be successful,” Serna said. “And they have to share in the responsibility for the success of the institution.”

Furthermore, Serna believes the policy would address threats directed toward people on campus through sites like Facebook.

On a number of occasions, he referred to an example where one faculty member intimidated another, but the college had no policy to address the issue.

“There was no action taken against that person officially because we do not have the policies in place to enforce any kind of disciplinary action,” Serna said.

Overall, Serna likes the policy from the Kansas Board of Regents, but there is one aspect he would change.

“We are trying to define a few of the broader terms,” Serna said. “We want to be clear with more examples that might give better context.”

The Kansas Board of Regents made headlines in May when it introduced its revised policy and some First Amendment groups have expressed concerns with the policy it developed.

The first is that it is overly broad. Many fear the vague language can allow college officials to punish professors, staff and students for speaking out against the college.

Aside from that, some experts expressed concern about specific sections within the policy. Azhar Majeed is the director of the individual rights education program at the Philadelphia based Foundation of Individual Rights in Education. He had an issue with section three, subsection three of the policy.

“They kept a provision in there that allows an institution of higher education to punish a faculty member for speech that impairs harmony among co-workers,” Majeed said. “It doesn’t really explain what it means to impair harmony among co-workers.”

Instead, Majeed would prefer language that is more specific.

“I would have language prohibiting faculty members from interfering with the teaching or research of other faculty members, for instance,” Majeed said. “Perhaps add some language about disrupting the educational process.”

Majeed’s second area of concern is in section two, subsection two of the policy.

“Another provision in the policy says that a professor’s speech will not be considered improper if it’s academic instruction within the instructor’s area of expertise,” Majeed said.

He said he feels it limits professors’ ability to teach classes outside their area of study.

“What if you have a professor who wants to venture into interdisciplinary studies or into a new field of study which really isn’t within their strict area of expertise, but which might be a research interest of theirs or an area of collaboration with faculty from other disciplines.” Majeed said. “At a public college or university, you really should be encouraging that type of new thinking, that type of exploring of new issues and subject matters.”

Northern’s social media policy has not been written yet. Administration officials have said they are still exploring the language of the new policy. It should be written later this year and will be distributed for comment and concerns.