Posts Tagged ‘social media’

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Or, alternatively, what’s the matter with Kansas?

Apparently, the Board of Regents of that state (with the assistance of the state’s Attorney General) has decided to drastically curtail tenure and academic freedom [ht: br].

The Regents decided that when university faculty use common forms of modern communication (“social media”) they no longer have the protections of tenure and academic freedom.  The Regents’ policy change does not even mention tenure or academic freedom.  The Regents acted without consulting the faculty and without any open debate.

As Scott Jaschik explains,

The policy outlines a number of reasons why any employee could be dismissed over social media postings. Some reasons — such as inciting violence or revealing confidential student information — aren’t causing alarm. But others, faculty advocates say, could severely limit faculty free speech.

For example, one definition of improper use is communication that “when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interest of the university.” Another is communication that “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.”

Further, the policy says that, in evaluating social media use that may be improper, the university chief executive should “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.”

The American Association of University Professors has long maintained that tenure and academic freedom are central to professors’ participation in teaching, research, and university governance. That policy is upheld in the latest draft report on academic freedom, updated to explicitly take into account social media.

This report recommends that each institution work with its faculty to develop policies governing the use of social media. Any such policy must recognize that social media can be used to make extramural utterances, which are protected under principles of academic freedom. As Committee A previously noted regarding extramural utterances, “Professors should . . .have the freedom to address the larger community with regard to any matter of social, political, economic, or other interest, without institutional discipline or restraint, save in response to fundamental violations of professional ethics or statements that suggest disciplinary incompetence.” Obviously, the literal distinction between “extramural” and “intramural” speech—speech outside or inside the university’s walls—has little meaning in the world of cyberspace. But the fundamental meaning of extramural speech, as a shorthand for speech in the public sphere and not in one’s area of academic expertise, fully applies in the realm of electronic communications, including social media.

The Kansas Board of Regents has, indeed, developed a policy—but it’s clearly one that violates all of the norms of academic freedom.