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 status update is, in the sole opinion of a university’s chief executive officer, “contrary to the best interest of the university.” Unsurprisingly, the Board’s decision to grant administrators unchecked power to punish faculty members’ protected speech sparked a national uproar: FIRE, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Kansas blasted the policy in a December 23 letter; the national American Association of University Professors strongly criticized the policy, and so did the Kansas state chapter; the Student Press Law Center did, too; and media coveragewas withering.
Following this thoroughly justified outrage about the policy’s glaring constitutional flaws, one might have expected the Board to heed the call from the Council of Faculty Senate Presidents to suspend it. After all, the Board itself had announced it was reviewing the policy a few weeks ago, so what would have been the harm in suspending it in the interim? The Council’s fears of negative publicity have certainly been borne out, and while we can’t speak to the Council’s concerns about recruiting new faculty, it has been suggested that the new policy might interfere with the University of Kansas’ accreditation.
Nevertheless, the Board has doubled down on the policy, keeping it firmly in place for now. In other words, having found itself in deep, the Kansas Board of Regents should have remembered the first rule of holes. But no: They’re still digging.
Of course, that means FIRE is still watching. If the Board doesn’t recognize its faculty’s First Amendment rights sooner rather than later, we fear the damage done to academic freedom and free expression on Kansas’ campuses will be very hard to undo. The hole is growing deeper.