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Kansas AAUP rallies around social media policy controversy

Kansas AAUP rallies around social media policy controversy

Nicholas Sumner

Ron Barrett-Gonzalez, associate professor at the University of Kansas, and Rob Catlett, director of the Center for Economic Education and professor of economics at Emporia State, work together during a group session at the AAUCP Conference held Feb. 8 in Science Hall. The AAUCP met to discuss the social media policy currently in place and their effect on professors’ rights to free speech.

In the ongoing debate and controversy surrounding social media policy at public universities, the Kansas conference of the American Association of University Professors is chiming in.

For five hours, a 16-person convention of AAUP chapter presidents and distinguished professors of Kansas universities drafted letters addressing pressing issues in higher education including the Kansas Board of Regents’ recent policy on social media, Saturday, Feb. 8 in Science Hall at Emporia State.

Five letters were written for the state legislature and the governor, KBOR, regent university administrations, faculty senates and individual faculty of Kansas universities.

“The primary goal is fundamentally to articulate to the various constituencies the challenges that faculty members across the state face and how to appropriately respond to them,” said Ron Barett-Gonzalez, president of the Kansas conference of AAUP and associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Kansas, who also presided over the convention.

The attendants of the First AAUP of Kansas Higher Education Policy Convention broke into five small groups on the second floor of Science Hall to pore over the letters and carefully word their recommendations regarding higher education policies in the state.

Giovanni Misceo, associate professor of psychology and president of the AAUP chapter at Benedictine, a private institution, said he attended the convention to defend the principle of academic freedom and contribute to the conference’s response to KBOR’s social media policy despite not being governed by that entity.

“Academic freedom is a right protected by the First Amendment, so we have some real constitutional teeth,” Misceo said.

KBOR passed their initial social media policy on Dec. 19 of last year. A day later, the national AAUP released a statement criticizing the policy.

Rob Catlett, director of the Center for Economic Education at ESU and chair of Kansas AAUP’s Committee, said that the national level of the association rarely responds so quickly.

“My personal opinion is that this one was so clear-cut that they didn’t have to wait very long,” Catlett said.

Catlett said students should be paying as much attention to the policy as faculty are.

“The concern that I think students might have is that if the Board of Regents adopts a policy like this for faculty, why can’t it do the same thing for students?” Catlett said.

While social media was the main topic at the convention and in the letters, Gonzalez said two other important issues were addressed in the letter going to legislators and the governor.

“(The) social media policy was the catalyst that brought us all together,” Gonzalez said.

In that letter, they also argued that the pre-invention assignment agreement, which gives businesses and universities the right to the patent for an employee’s invention, could slow down scientific and technological advancements, as well as the economy, in Kansas.

Last, they expressed their concern over an apparent loophole in current state laws that allows a jurist in a court case involving a university to receive payment from that same university during the time of the hearing, which represents a potential conflict of interest. Gonzalez emphasized this last issue several times during the convention.

Gonzalez said the letters are being reviewed by the association’s attorney, after which Gonzalez will sign and send them personally within the coming weeks. Kansas AAUP will hold their 2015 convention on higher education policy next February.

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