15 April 2014
Dear Kansas Board of Regents,
We write to offer strong support for the joint working group’s revision of the Kansas Board of Regents’ social media policy. The revised policy is laudable in several ways.
First, it recognizes the unique and fundamental duty of public universities to contribute to the discovery, creation, and testing of new knowledge, as well as the educational necessity to encourage critical thinking and ensure breadth of knowledge for students. These are primary responsibilities of public universities; they differentiate college classrooms, university lecture halls, and campus libraries from nearly every other sort of work environment. Any policy regarding the sharing of thoughts and language in an academic environment must support this critical role for university employees.
Second, the process of its development models scholarly inquiry. The group formed for this task includes individuals (faculty and staff) with multiple areas of expertise and experience. They analyzed existing policies across the Regents’ campuses, searched nationally for parallel policies, debated the goals and language among themselves, and released their draft for further scrutiny and debate within the academic communities where it will be implemented. This process exemplifies the very practices of scholarship that are so fundamental to academic work.
Third, it offers true guidance for the proper development of campus-specific policies, relying on the specific procedures already mandated for policy development on the individual Regents campuses, each of which has an individual mission in which academic freedom and discourse must function. This draft is neither chilling nor punitive; to the contrary, it encourages thoughtful, informed examination of how the new technologies of social media complicate as well as facilitate public discourse.
“The proper role of public intellectuals is to question accepted dogmas, conceive of new methods of analysis, and expand the terms of public debate,” John Cassidy observes in a recent review of a Harvard University Press publication (“Forces of Divergence,” The New Yorker, 31 March 2014: 73).
As University Distinguished Professors at Kansas State University and the University of Kansas Medical Center, and Distinguished Professors at the University of Kansas and Wichita State University, we find this draft meets, supports, and exemplifies the role of scholarship for public intellectuals in a democracy. We endorse it with enthusiasm.
cc: Social Media Policy Workgroup (Kevin Johnson, Max McCoy, Kristin Rupp, Melissa J. Hunsicker Walburn, Julia Keen, Jeff Morris, Browyn Conrad, Dacia Clark, Charles Epp, Easan Selvan, Mark Fisher, Victoria Mosack, Richard Muma), Governor Sam Brownback, KSU President Kirk Schulz, KU Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, WSU President John W. Bardo, KSU Provost April Mason, KU Provost Jeff Vitter, WSU Provost Tony Vizzini, KSU Faculty Senate President Julia Keen, KU Faculty Senate President Chris Steadham, KSU Director of Government Relations Sue Peterson
UPDATE, 15 Apr. 2014, 1:00 pm: Philine Wangemann’s name was omitted from the original version of this letter. It has now been added. Apologies for the omission. Tom Roche’s name was added, but without the final “e.” Apologies for the misspelling.