The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 28, 2013

Social media policy for Kansas universities panned

More input sought after backlash over action by Kansas Board of Regents

PITTSBURG, Kan. — A policy amendment approved by the Kansas Board of Regents earlier in December has left employees of public universities in Kansas concerned about their rights to free speech and has stirred a national First Amendment debate.

Some university employees told the Globe they felt slighted for not having been involved in the creation of the amendment, which came in the wake of a tweet by University of Kansas journalism professor David Guth after the September shootings that left 13 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.

Regent Ed McKechnie, who is from Southeast Kansas, on Friday said the regents would be asking faculty senates throughout the state to give input in coming months.

“We went through it too fast,” McKechnie said. “We skipped an important part, and that was the collaborative process. We didn’t engage others like we should have.”

Justin Honey, Pittsburg State University faculty senate president, said PSU President Steve Scott will make a statement regarding the amendment on Thursday.

“It’s my understanding there will be a collaborative effort between the university, the president, the faculty and staff members to take a look at the policy and make recommendations to the Board of Regents for revisions,” Honey said.

The amendment, which was passed by the regents on Dec. 18, gives university presidents license to discipline employees, up to termination, for “improper use of social media.”

“Social media” was defined as including but not being limited to blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. “Improper use” was defined as indirectly inciting violence or immediate breach of peace; being contrary to the best interests of the university; disclosing without authority any confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information or confidential research data; or impairing discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, having a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impeding the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interfering with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affecting the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.

University heads are directed in the amendment “to balance the interest of the university against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern,” taking into consideration the employee’s position, whether he or she used the university brand and whether it was done during the employee’s working hours or using university equipment.

Honey, who teaches in the PSU School of Construction, said that the amendment caught everyone off-guard because it was done quickly and without much advance notice. He was part of a council of faculty senate presidents from throughout the state who met in Topeka before the regents meeting to discuss agenda items. The council then recommended to the regents postponing a vote on the amendment until faculty and administrators had an opportunity to provide input.

“Obviously they did not take heed to our concerns,” Honey said of the amendment’s passage, describing it as a “knee-jerk reaction.”

Since the approval, he said he has received dozens of emails from concerned faculty members.

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