Kansas Reconsiders University Social Media Policy That Made Waves

The social media policy could affect university accreditation for Kansas institutions.

by News Staff / January 8, 2014 0

A controversial social media policy is getting a second look after an outcry from proponents of academic freedom.

The Kansas Board of Regents established a working group to evaluate the policy, which gives state higher education institutions the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate employees for their social media posts, reports OneNewsNow and Laurence Journal-World. They can do so under four conditions, one of which is when their social media posts are "contrary to the best interest of the university."

A professor from Kansas University says the original policy could affect the university's accreditation review next year. One of the accreditation criteria states that universities must be "committed to freedom of expression and the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning." Professor Susan Twombley, who chairs the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, said the policy is at odds with this criteria.

Three organizations have asked the board to throw out the policy altogether. These organizations include the ACLU of Kansas, the National Coalition Against Censorship and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The policy is as follows:

The chief executive officer of a state university has the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate from employment any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media.  "Social media" means any facility for online publication and commentary, including but not limited to blogs, wikis, and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.  "Improper use of social media" means making a communication through social media that:

i.  directly incites violence or other immediate breach of the peace;

ii.  when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee's official duties, is contrary to the best interest of the university;

iii.  discloses without authority any confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data; or

iv.  subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, 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.

In determining whether the employee's communication constitutes an improper use of social media under paragraph (iv), the chief executive officer shall balance the interest of the university in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees against the employee's right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern, and may consider the employee's position within the university and whether the employee used or publicized the university name, brands, website, official title or school/department/college or otherwise created the appearance of the communication being endorsed, approved or connected to the university in a manner that discredits the university.  The chief executive officer may also consider whether the communication was made during the employee's working hours or the communication was transmitted utilizing university systems or equipment.  This policy on improper use of social media shall apply prospectively from its date of adoption by the Kansas Board of Regents.