Friday, December 27, 2013

Universities will be charged with enforcing new regents policy on social media

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

TOPEKA, KAN. — While the Kansas Board of Regents approved a policy that could result in faculty and staff at public universities being fired over improper use of social media, it will be up to the schools to enforce it.

"This is a policy making board," said Regents Chairman Fred Logan. "We don't get involved in personnel decisions," at the universities, he said.

Last week, the regents approved a policy that says a university chief executive officer can discipline employees, up to termination, for social media communication that affects the university's ability to carry out its functions.

The regents approved the measure unanimously in light of an incident in which Kansas University journalism professor David Guth created an uproar when he posted an anti-National Rifle Association tweet.

Some have said the new policy is too broad and will stifle free speech, while the regents said the policy follows U.S. Supreme Court rulings on First Amendment rights.

Regent Ed McKechnie said the policy wouldn't stifle academic research but was meant to put in place rules on communication on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, "that can be damaging and are instantaneous."

KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little said that discussion about the effects of the new policy will continue both at KU and the regents.

Under the new policy, each university will develop a grievance procedure for faculty and staff to appeal employment decisions. And the decision of the chief executive officer or designee concerning a grievance appeal is not subject to any further administrative review or the regents, although any decision can be appealed in court.

The policy was prompted by Guth who after the shootings that left 13 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., posted on Twitter: "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."

Guth was placed on administrative leave "to prevent disruptions to the learning environment for students," according to Gray-Little's statement at the time.

Guth has since returned to work but is performing administrative duties.

Several powerful legislators called for his dismissal. Guth apologized for the tweet and said he did not mean he wanted children to die.