The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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December 31, 2013

Kansas Board of Regents recommends review of controversial social media policy

After a new Kansas Board of Regents policy regarding university employee use of social media sparked a national debate about First Amendment freedom by those working in academia, the policy is to be revisited.

The regents announced via a news release on Tuesday that Fred Logan, board chairman, has asked Andy Tompkins, president and CEO, to work with university presidents and chancellors to form a workgroup of representatives from each campus.

They are to review and discuss the policy, Logan said.

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

It was a move hinted at by Ed McKechnie, a regent from Southeast Kansas, in an interview with the Globe on Friday afternoon.

“We went through it too fast,’’ McKechnie said in the interview, noting then that it was likely the regents would be accepting input in coming months. “We skipped an important part and that was the collaborative process. We didn’t engage others like we should have.”

University employees told the Globe last week they felt slighted for not having been involved in the creation of the policy 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.

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

Also last Friday, Pittsburg State University Faculty Senate President Justin Honey had said he believed President Steve Scott would make a statement regarding the amendment on Thursday. On Tuesday, Honey confirmed Scott still planned to make a statement.

Honey, who teaches in the PSU School of Construction, said that the amendment caught everyone off guard as 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 prior to 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.

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

Tony White, UniServe director at the Kansas National Education Association, said 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.

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