On Facebook, a friend recently asked me how the recent controversy over the Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media policy differs from A&E’s suspending of Phil Robertson from the Duck Dynasty reality TV show. I see why she asks: The Kansas Board of Regents has rescinded faculty and staff’s right to free speech, just as A&E has rescinded Phil Robertson’s right to free speech.
First, let me go on record as saying that I support Phil Robertson’s right to express his belief that homosexuality is immoral, and to use the language of Christianity to do so. I think that using religion to advocate bigotry dishonors the Christian faith, and I wish that he would express his ignorance in a different way. But the First Amendment grants him the right to express foolish ideas, and I support that right.
A&E, however, is a corporation. If it chooses not to grant Mr. Robertson a venue for his homophobia, he can still express it –Â just not on the Duck Dynasty television program.
But here’s where reality TV and academia part ways. The free and openÂ exchange of ideas is at the core of the academic enterprise, and one venueÂ for that exchange is social media – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. TheÂ Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media policy says that faculty and staffÂ can be fired for impairing “discipline byÂ superiors or harmony amongÂ co-workers,” or for doing anything “contrary to the best interest ofÂ the university.” In addition to being both broad and vague,Â that languageÂ hampers our ability to do our jobs.
A university is different from a corporation. Academics who work for universities exchange ideas because it’s our job to exchange ideas. It is at the core of what the academic enterprise is all about. Thanks to this new social media policy, we now lack some of the basic tools for sharing research.
For example, the Kansas Board of Regents is appointed by Governor Sam Brownback, whoÂ believes that gay and lesbian people do not deserve human rights (such as,Â say,Â the right to marry). What if you’re doing research on human rights? Or teachingÂ Walt Whitman, Alison Bechdel, or Oscar Wilde? Would that be “contrary toÂ the best interest of the university”? Would it foster disharmony? If yourÂ university president is as prejudiced as your governor, talking about these ideasÂ openlyÂ might give you pause. I am pleased to report that Kansas State University’s president supports the rights of LGBTQ people, but university presidents come and go. Policies lastÂ for a long time.Â And this sort of policy impedes the exchange ofÂ ideas.
In crafting this policy, the Kansas Board of Regents did not consult theÂ faculty, staff, or administration of the Regents institutions. Had they done so, they might have avoidedÂ thisÂ debacle. Indeed, the most productive way forward would be for them toÂ rescind the new social media edict, and instead work with elected representatives fromÂ theÂ faculty and university administrations, to craft a sensible social mediaÂ policy.
- Full set of links (regularly updated), at bottom of my previous post.
- Kansas Board of Regents Revokes Right to Freedom of Speech (the previous post).
- Kansas Universities’ Faculty and Staff Against Regents Speech Policy (Facebook group)