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Work group says policy should be proactive, not punitive

The 13 appointed members of the Kansas Board of Regents social media work group met in Topeka on Tuesday to keep the ball rolling on their recommendations for KBOR. This is the second meeting the work group has had since members were appointed in mid-January.

After a call to order and a review of the Jan. 24 meeting, members began to discuss what kinds of aspects they want to see brought up in their recommendations. One of the first points was the question of the ethics in the policy.

“Although a policy is lawful does not mean it’s (a) good policy,” said Julia Keen, associate professor and president of the faculty senate at Kansas State.

Keen also mentioned that the policy applies to all public university employees, not just faculty, and that is it different than what other state employees follow.

Max McCoy, adviser for The Bulletin and professor of journalism at Emporia State, said that the group should “strive for an amendment that echoes First Amendment Rights.” KBOR, according to McCoy, expressed that they wish for the work group to respect the original goals of the policy.

“I think the group should reach a consensus to blaze our own path,” McCoy said.

The placement of the original policy was another concern that was brought up. It currently is located under the “Suspension, Termination and Dismissals” section of KBOR’s policy manual. The suggestion was made to move the social media policy to section F, which is categorized as “Other.” The point of this would be so the policy could be seen as “proactive” instead of “punitive or disciplinary.”

“Maybe we should be exploring what is proper use of social media,” said Easan Selvan, associate director in Information Technology Services at the University of Kansas.

After a short lunch break, the group had a conference call from Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. During the call, LoMonte reinforced the idea that at many other universities, their social media policy are not punitive, but are more of guidelines for employees to follow.

“I wouldn’t put ‘dismissal’ in a policy,” LoMonte said.

Charles Epp, professor at KU and co-chair of the work group, mentioned that many universities have their own social media policies, under a larger, state-wide policy.

“These policies are quite clear in saying you are not responsible for someone else’s interpretation of your comment,” Epp said.

A lengthy discussion was also held about what exactly is classified as “social media.” The group questioned whether it includes emails, among other forms of electronic communication. In the end, however, they decided it didn’t matter and that the policy wouldn’t limit it to the social media we know now.

“What are we defining as social media?” said Mark Fisher, professor in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Kansas Medical Center. “Social media is also what we work with. Can we not use social media to educate?”

A visit from Richard Levy, professor at KU, was paid to give a presentation to educate the members of the work group on the First Amendment. Levy’s points included things like the fact that social media policies are based on the “content of speech,” university faculty and staff have “the right to speak as private citizens,” and that “fighting words” are not protected under the First Amendment.

The group also decided that it would be most beneficial for the co-chairs, Johnson and Epp, to write up a draft of their resolution first and send it out before the next meeting for review from other group members.

In the end, the work group recognized that social media is the same as other forms of communications, and that universities should be allowed to develop their own social media policies, as long as they follow KBOR’s general guidelines.

The next work group meeting will be from 8:30 a.m.-12 p.m. Feb. 28 in the President’s Conference Room in Plumb Hall on the ESU campus.

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