New Words, Same Tune: Kansas Board of Regents’ Revisions Fall Short

Uncensor KansasThe Kansas Board of Regents’ revised social media policy (announced this afternoon) grants academic freedom with one hand, and takes it away with the other. It adds the language of the work group’s model policy, but refuses the work group’s intent. It retains nearly all of the Board’s original language that drew such criticism – grounds for dismissal still include making statements “contrary to the best interests of the university,” or that “impair discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers,” and so on. But now, the policy begins by affirming principles of academic freedom.

The Board has done what it said it would do: it has taken its original failed policy, and then added language from the work group’s exemplary policy. The problem, of course, is that the language of the original policy remains operative. The Board’s proclamation “Kansas Board of Regents to Consider Substantial Changes to Social Media Policy” is accurate only if the word “substantial” refers to the number of different words in the revised policy: the latest version does adopt most of the work group’s suggested language. However, the proclamation is inaccurate if the word “substantial” refers to the punitive intent of the original policy: making statements as a private citizen can still be cause for dismissal. That has not changed.

This new policy is at odds with itself. It begins by walking towards the light of open, unfettered inquiry, but then turns its back, barricading itself behind its insistence upon censure.

In contradicting itself, the policy also negates itself.

It is a deft piece of sophistry. In seeming to grant the academic freedoms its critics have sought, it initially lulls readers into thinking that the Regents have at last heard and understood. But then, as it approaches the home stretch, it gives us 6.b.3 — which is nearly the same as 6.b. in the original. At that point, previous assurances of “the Kansas Board of Regents’ commitment to the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom” wither before those vague “best interests of the university,” impairing discipline, and all the rest.  The promised oasis of academic freedom turns out to have been a mirage, after all – a lovely, enticing mirage. But a mirage, just the same.

The Kansas Board of Regents is inviting comments on this new policy (once you click on the link, scroll down to the bottom of the page) until this Friday, May 2nd, at 5pm.  So.  Please comment!  It does not seem to be restricted to faculty, staff, or students of Regents universities.  So,… if you’d like to voice your opinion, please do.


  1. Casie Hermansson


    As the KBOR has not taken the counsel of the after-the-fact workgroup, I am at a loss to understand why it would invite comments on this revision of the policy as I have no expectation of comments being considered any more. However, I will comment to say that this revised policy is no better substantilvely than the one that was passed unanimously and without soliciting input from stakeholders back in December.

    Until you define the best interests of the university, harmony between colleagues, what my working hours actually are (I am a tenured professor and my teaching hours vary widely, as do my grading hours which include nights and weekends), the policy over reaches. I can incite a breach of the peace by calling on my facebook page to attend a protest. Any of these things can get me fired in the state of Kansas. It is a punitive, ill-advised policy that attempts to muzzle the very people you employ to think and to express their thoughts. I am outraged by this legistlature-prompted attack on university employees and consider this reason enough to reconsider my role in Kansas.

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  3. Russell Jones


    Freedom of speech is not unlimited in the constitution, but it does allow criticism of governing bodies and government officials. The more authoritarian governments around the world tend to squash criticism and limit freedom of speech. Censorship is the next step. This policy is still very close to that. We need to be very careful here not to go too far over to the dark side of repressive authoritarianism when we attempt to limit criticism.

  4. Reply

    Having read through this policy, it is apparent that the same vague statements from the previous policy are still present. The working group wanted to include a broader definition of social media since this now includes any expansion of rapid electronic dissemination to a broader public audience. I think it is ironic that this omission of a broader definition was adapted during a week where a NBA owner was recorded at his home, this was widely disseminated and he lost his team, a large sum money and of course future revenues. With respect to University Business, this could also apply to situations where one is out in public (a restaurant for instance) and a conversation is recorded, the recorder identifies the person responsible for a comment and this is widely disseminated in the news media. This is why we wanted to include a broader context of social media in contrast to the more narrow definition adapted by the current reagents draft. Big brother is watching (and recording). In this modern world of cell phone recordings and audio, anything you say can and will be held against you and the university….(indirectly affecting funding) etc. Since as academics we are viewed as elitist by some members of the legislators (who ultimately hold the purse strings thus holding the leverage over University spending ) we must be aware that we may have lost the freedom to say anything as a private citizen that may be construed to go against the best interests of the University. This would for example result from a disagreement with a scientific policy, and funding large scale Scientific projects that relies on large sums of donor (or taxpayer) monies.) Remember that this is the state where some want creationism taught in our schools in addition to the scientific theory of Evolution. (1999). So you see, we are in a pickle.

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