The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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January 2, 2014

PSU joins statewide discussion of new social media policy

PITTSBURG, Kan. — Pittsburg State University will have a voice in a statewide discussion of the new social media policy recently adopted by the Kansas Board of Regents.

In a letter to the campus issued today, PSU President Steve Scott said that the university will be represented by a workgroup that will review the policy and make recommendations about possible changes in time for the board’s April meeting.

“I’m pleased to report to you the board has now reached out to campuses throughout the state and requested their help in forming a small workgroup to make recommendations for modifying the policy,” Scott said in the letter.

The board adopted the new policy on Dec. 18. It gives university chief executive officers license to discipline employees, up to termination, for “improper use of social media.”

Almost immediately, the change triggered criticism from free speech advocates in and outside of Kansas. Some PSU employees have said they felt slighted for not being included in the process of developing such a policy.

Tony White, UniServe director at the Kansas National Education Association, told the Globe last week that the amendment was “hasty” and is “oblivious” to a contract negotiated in 2011 by PSU, the KNEA and the regents.

The amendment also prompted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, joined by the National Coalition Against Censorship and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Kansas, to write a letter to the regents on Dec. 20 to express “grave concern” about the amendment.

In response, the board announced on Tuesday that board chair Fred Logan asked Andy Tompkins, board president and CEO, to work with the university presidents and chancellor to form a workgroup on each campus to study the policy.

Logan requested that those workgroups then present any recommendations for amendments to the policy to the Board’s Governance Committee by April.

“It’s to their credit that the regents recognized their mistake and have set in place a collaborative process that will result in an acceptable policy that respects academic freedom,” White said in response to the announcement they would revisit the policy.

“Some might not realize that a good academic freedom policy strikes a proper balance between individual rights as a citizen and the interests of the university.”

In his letter, Scott noted that the timing of the board’s decision, which came after the end of the semester, made it difficult to engage the campus in a worthwhile discussion.

He wrote that in the week prior to the board’s action, as details of the proposed policy began to emerge, he and PSU Provost Lynette Olson began meeting with several campus stakeholder groups to make them aware of the purpose of the policy and alert them to the direction the statewide discussions appeared to be headed.

“ ... as a result, a number of concerns were identified and communicated to me in writing,” Scott wrote. “I passed these concerns on to the board’s general counsel and visited with the board chair about the reaction I was receiving to this policy.”

Scott wrote that the beginning of a new semester provides the opportunity to engage the campus fully in the discussion.

“I’ve waited until now to write to you about this issue because I believe it deserves our campus’ full attention,” Scott wrote. “That would have been difficult to do during the holiday break when most faculty and staff were away from campus and had their attention rightfully focused on family and friends.”

In his letter, Scott acknowledged the challenges of addressing the changes brought on by technology while at the same time protecting core traditions and principles.

“Many of you have worked with me for a number of years, and over that time, I would hope you recognize me as an ardent supporter of free speech, academic freedom, and the overall importance of maintaining a campus culture of openness and transparency,” Scott wrote. “I can assure you that I’ll work diligently in the coming weeks to speak in support of these ideals.”

The president also asked members of the campus community to share their thoughts and concerns with leaders in their areas or with him, directly. He also directed them to a new campus webpage with links to information about the policy, which he said would be updated as new information becomes available.

White said he believes the place to start is to revisit the university’s current academic freedom policy, which was fashioned after the AAUP recommendations and is in the contract that PSU/KNEA bargained with the regents.

“It’s well-reasoned, balanced, and has served higher education well for almost 75 years through world wars and societal unrest,” he said. “It can probably handle a little Twitter.”

 

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