The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


April 21, 2014

Our View: Right to fight

— David Guth serves as a great example of why Kansas does not need a new social media policy for college and university employees.

But the Kansas Board of Regents is doing the exact opposite — it is pursuing a policy that gives college administrators the power to discipline or fire employees based on social media activity.

The policy has been widely panned by university employees, who rightly consider it an aggressive attack on First Amendment rights. But instead of working with its employees on a compromise, the board has only addressed the issue with lip service. The policy was adjusted to reflect consideration of First Amendment rights but still gives administrators firing power over what one might post to a social network.

The policy extends to any form of social media, from Twitter to Tumbler, Yelp to YouTube, Facebook to Foursquare. Even Google+, a social media site that nobody uses.

That last line provides a perfect example of how infuriating this policy could turn out to be.

Imagine that a teacher at Washburn University tweeted that line about Google+. Washburn is located in Topeka, the city that changed its name to Google for a month in 2010. City leaders hoped to attract Google’s interest in developing a test site for a gigabit fiber connection.

It’s conceivable that tweeting such a thing would anger officials at Washburn, including its president. Or it might have offended someone trying to woo Google for the test site, thus leading them to complain to Washburn’s president.

This hypothetical teacher who tweeted a simple joke about Google+ could find himself without a job because of “the university’s best interests.”

Calling this new policy an overreach is an understatement. It is too vague and places too much power in the hands of college administrators. And the ultimate insult is that it is completely unnecessary.

When Guth, a journalism teacher at the University of Kansas, in December tweeted a desire for NRA members to be shot in the wake of a Navy Yard shooting, he was placed on administrative leave. He apologized for his tweet and faced the university’s disciplinary system.

In other words, current policies worked. There is no evidence that the university administrators need this new power, and teachers are right to fight it.

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