Dear Kansas Board of Regents,
Greetings. You probably don’t know me but I’ve been a long-time user of your services. I started my college career taking dual-credit courses at Pratt Community College in 1996, I attended the Kansas Board of Regents Honors Academy in 1998, and I am a graduate of one of your fine institutions, Kansas State University. After getting my PhD, I even returned to Kansas State for 3 years as an assistant professor.
I “did good” as a professor at Kansas State – I published a lot, won a big teaching award, and didn’t make waves. Like a lot of people in my generation, I also had a Facebook account. I proudly displayed my work information on the account – I wanted others to know that I was a K-State grad and professor. I left K-State in the Fall of 2012 for a better position at a better department and university. It was a good decision. There really wasn’t anything wrong with K-State and I still keep in close contact with many of my friends and former colleagues in Kansas.
Last night – on Facebook in fact – I learned that you just adopted a new social media policy. I read the policy with great interest. In many regards, I think it is completely reasonable. Of course I know not to incite violence in my Facebook or blogging activities; I also know not to post confidential information about students. It’s your other point that worries me: improper use of social media includes things that are “contrary to the best interest of the university.” Wow. Talk about scary. As Philip Nel – a K-State English professor I actually took a class with in 2000 – wrote in his blog (also cited in the Inside Higher Ed article):
“As faculty grade their last student papers and exams before leaving town for the Christmas holidays, the Kansas Board of Regents quietly — and unanimously — voted to revoke their academic freedom and basic right to freedom of speech.”
I didn’t start blogging until after I left K-State. However, if this policy had been in place while I was at K-State or was in place at my current university, I don’t know if I would have. I also don’t think I would risk posting anything on Facebook or Twitter as a professor at one of your colleges or universities. “Best interest of the university?” What does that mean? I one time posted something on Facebook about how my office at K-State was never heated properly. Is that in the “best interest of the university?” Probably not – we wouldn’t want outsiders to know that facilities are sub-par.
“Best interest of the university” could also mean I should never post about my current research. Let me give you an example – I study human rights and am working on a paper with Victor Asal and Udi Sommer on how advocacy concerning LGBT rights influences the rights for sexual minorities to marry. This right is not in line with the Governor of the State of Kansas, Sam Brownback, who actually appoints your board. So, if I write a post about my current research, would that be against the “best interest of the university”? We all know that Brownback’s staff really likes to search for anti-Brownback tweets (even of high schoolers)– would a blog at the Duck on that subject get me in hot water if I taught in Kansas? I sure hope not.
In short, I’m saddened by the potential misuse of your new policy. I hope my former K-State colleagues also express their dismay. However, if I was them, I’d be hesitant to express my dismay on any sort of social media.