Regents pass social media policy in wake of Guth tweet

— Topeka — The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a policy that would allow the firing of university employees if they communicated through social media in a way that aversely affects the school.

The policy was made in response to the anti-NRA tweet by Kansas University professor David Guth, which caused a national uproar.

Under the social media policy approved unanimously by the regents, the chief executive officer of a state university has the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media.

Improper use means making a communication that:

— Directly incites violence or other immediate breach of the peace;

— Is made pursuant to the employee’s official duties and is contrary to the best interests of the university;

— Discloses confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data; or

— Impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.

Each university must establish and publish grievance procedures for use by faculty and staff in appealing employment decisions of the institution.

Regents Chairman Fred Logan said the policy tracks language in U.S. Supreme Court decisions on First Amendment rights and was deemed constitutional by the Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office.

Logan said a specific policy on social media was needed because “there is some feeling that social media can lead to extraordinary damage very quickly.”

In addition, board members said they thought it was necessary to institute a policy on social media when they realized after the Guth uproar that there wasn’t one.

He said the policy was “inspired” by the Guth incident, but declined to say whether Guth could have been fired under the new policy. Logan said that incident was a personnel matter for KU to decide. KU spokesman Tim Caboni declined to speculate on how the policy would have affected Guth’s situation.

Guth was placed on administrative leave in September after a Twitter post following the shootings that left 13 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. Guth wrote: “The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.”

The post angered many who thought Guth was wishing death on the children of National Rifle Association members. Guth has since apologized and has said he did not mean that he wanted children to die.

Guth’s leave has since ended, and he’s been put back to work on administrative duties.

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said the policy was generated by the regents, and she wasn’t that familiar with it. She said any decision to fire someone could ultimately be appealed to court.

Faculty representatives had urged the board to postpone its Wednesday vote so that faculty members could provide input.

“It’s a little broad and doesn’t protect us in a lot of ways,” Sheryl Lidzy, of Emporia State University, who is president of the Council of Faculty Senate, said of the policy.

Logan refused, but added that the board would welcome input over the next several months. “That will be part of a continuing conversation,” he said.

Gerald Mikkelson, a KU professor of Russian and Eastern European studies and member of the KU Faculty Senate, said he was “not only surprised but shocked” by the policy, which he described as “repressive” and a “threat to the already existing mechanisms for dealing with malfeasance.”

“It’s a direct affront to the faculty and staff,” he said.

KU Provost Jeff Vitter urged the regents to use caution, saying that the policy will be scrutinized nationally. “You are potentially walking into a dangerous situation,” he said.

— Ben Unglesbee contributed to this report. Statehouse reporter Scott Rothschild can be reached at 785-423-0668.

Comments

Lane Signal says...

They could have just shortened it to say "If any faculty or staff uses social media then the chief executive officer of a state university has the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate that faculty or staff member." That seems to be the legal implication of the proposed policy. The criteria for application of the policy are so broad and nebulous that any tweet of any political nature, any tweet that expresses an opinion of any kind, could be grounds for dismissal. It's Orwellian.

Posted 18 December 2013, 3:14 p.m. Suggest removal

Amy Varoli Elliott says...

Do we not worry about the first amendment anymore?

Posted 18 December 2013, 3:33 p.m. Suggest removal

Brock Masters says...

Interesting question. The government cannot restrict our free speech but individuals and businesses can. For example, this site can and does restrict our free speech. It is their site. Employers can restrict what employees say by firing them.

But what happens when the business/employer is also the government? Can they, as a government employer restrict free speech?

Posted 18 December 2013, 6:58 p.m. Suggest removal

Lane Signal says...

In general, any government that wants to limit speech, will start by silencing the academic community. Academics set an example for their students and for the larger community. If they fear to speech out, that fear is contagious.

Also, I think your analogy is flawed. The Journal World can limit what's posted on their site, but the Board of Regents is not saying it can limit speech on their site(s). They are saying an employee may not express himself/herself publicly. They are saying that employment at the University is contingent on silence on any controversial issue.

Posted 19 December 2013, 11:42 a.m. Suggest removal

Brock Masters says...

I used this site as an example of a business.

You missed the part about employers restricting speech by firing them which I wrote before A&E fired Phil Robertson for what he said off the show.

It helps if you read all I wrote before telling me it is flawed.

Posted 19 December 2013, 8:09 p.m. Suggest removal

David Klamet says...

There is great irony here. The central issue of Guths statements was about what the limits of personal freedom should be and the consequences thereof. The response by the Board of Regents has been an assault on another of those freedoms.

Posted 18 December 2013, 10:41 p.m. Suggest removal

George Laughead says...

If the faculty member involved had sent a message against, say, a mosque after the April Boston bomb attacks, would that had caused the Regent to have new policy? I suggest no -- it happened only because the gun industry and their lobby NRA was involved. Really. Let's call this the "except for guns" first amendment rule.

Posted 19 December 2013, 7:30 a.m. Suggest removal

David Reber says...

Love the irony that folks who LOVE to go after people's 2nd Amendment rights get all up in arms about infringement of people's 1st Amendment rights.

The Bill of Rights is a LIST, people, not a MENU.

Posted 19 December 2013, 10:10 a.m. Suggest removal

Chris Anderson says...

I'd post a comment, but . . . .

Seriously, this is extreme overreach by the Board of Regents. What is social media? Anything communicated to anyone in a public and permanent way, it would seem -- letters to the editor, personal essays, academic literature, a public verbal communication recorded by somebody else and posted to a social media site -- and so on.

Our brave new world requires a climate of trust ... not a climate of fear.

Posted 19 December 2013, 11:34 a.m. Suggest removal

Brock Masters says...

So do all of you supporting Guth think A&E was wrong for firing Phil Robertson?

Posted 19 December 2013, 8:11 p.m. Suggest removal

Brock Masters says...

Fair enough but where do you draw the line with disruptive speech? Are there limits?

Posted 20 December 2013, 6:26 a.m. Suggest removal

Larry Sturm says...

It sounds like they didn't work on this action long enough to get a good referendum with good language. Poor oversight from a group that are supposed to be smart people.

Posted 20 December 2013, 2:51 p.m. Suggest removal

William Weissbeck says...

I didn't realize that humans came in two forms, vertebrates and invertebrates, the later of which become Regents.

Posted 20 December 2013, 3:09 p.m. Suggest removal

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