Journalism Educators call on Kansas Board of Regents to Reverse New Social Media Policy

CONTACT: PAULA POINDEXTER, Texas-Austin, 2013-14 President of AEJMC • May 21, 2014
The exercise of free speech is now potentially a firing offense at colleges and universities in Kansas. The Kansas Board of Regents, which governs public universities and colleges in Kansas, has adopted a policy that defines unacceptable uses of social media and allows for the suspension or dismissal of those who violate it.

This social media policy was primarily in response to University of Kansas journalism professor David Guth’s tweet about the deadly shooting in September 2013 at the U.S. Naval Yard when 12 people were killed. Guth, who was placed on administrative leave as a result of his Twitter message, tweeted: “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 resulting outcry from the public and state lawmakers no doubt fueled the formation of this new policy.

The Regents’ policy bars social media messages that would incite violence, disclose confidential student information or release protected data, communication that is already prohibited by existing laws. The more troubling provision of the policy, however, is the overly vague statement that restricts faculty and staff from posting anything “contrary to the best interests of the university.”

It is not difficult to imagine the chilling effect the new policy will have on freedom of expression in general and academic freedom in particular on university and college campuses in Kansas. Furthermore, social media, and Twitter specifically, have become essential tools in gathering and disseminating news. If Kansas’ journalism professors are afraid to teach students how to use these reporting tools because they may violate a vague social media policy, the future journalists they train will be unprepared for the real world of journalism in the digital age.

The Kansas Board of Regents chair, Fred Logan, defended the policy and argued that it enhances academic freedom by giving employees specific guidelines. But the very suggestion that social media expression should be subjected to guidelines conflicts with academic freedom and, more importantly, the First Amendment. Therefore the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), the largest association of journalism and communication educators in the world, calls upon the Kansas Board of Regents to reverse this social media policy that restricts academic freedom, violates First Amendment rights, interferes with the professional education of those seeking journalism careers and suppresses the intellectual discourse that universities should champion.

For more information regarding this AEJMC Presidential Statement, please contact Paula Poindexter, President of AEJMC, at paula.poindexter@austin.utexas.edu.

AEJMC (The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) is a nonprofit, educational association of journalism and mass communication educators, students and media professionals. The Association’s mission is to advance education, foster scholarly research, cultivate better professional practice and promote the free flow of communication. To find out more about AEJMC, visit www.AEJMC.org.

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