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Social media misconduct could cause Kansas professors to lose jobs December 23, 2013

Posted by rmshepard in Uncategorized.
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The Kansas Board of Regents announced in December a new policy for addressing perceived misconduct on social media. State universities now have the right to fire professors if they use social media to incite violence, post confidential information about students, or engage in online acts that are “contrary to the best interests of the university.” In other words, interpreted in one way, this new rule could hurt professors or staff members who use blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram , or anything else to express controversial political beliefs, criticism of the school, or criticism of other faculty.

According to Erik Voeten of The Washington Post, the rule goes a little too far. There are too many inherent risks in using social media, which is now encouraged on campuses that try to engage more with students, and the policy doesn’t account for that. As Voeten wrote:

“Social media usage is mistake prone.  You hit publish and whatever happens to be on your mind is there for the world to see.  There is not much time to edit, sleep on it, review copy-edited versions of your text, and so on.  Anyone who blogs or tweets regularly will say things he or she later regrets or wished were worded just a bit differently.”

Unsurprisingly, the new rule is being widely panned. As an editorial for the Kansas City Star summarized, “It was devised with no input from faculty members, and it shows. In giving university leaders the authority to discipline or terminate even tenured professors for vague, subjective offenses, the regents have set up a chilling environment that runs contrary to the ideal of academic.” In other words, what would be bad for the university’s image could be interpreted so broadly to fire just about anyone. Pretty tragic for fields that require critical thinking about some of society’s most controversial subjects.

For more on the original incident that sparked the perceived need for this policy, watch the following video:

Discussion Questions:

1.  How might professors use social media inappropriately in a way that hurts a university’s image?

2.  Is the new Kansas rule a violation of free speech? Why, or why not?

3.  How could the new Kansas rule lead to a possible violation of free speech in the future?



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