There is nothing like individual bad taste and administrative overreaction to make for bad law and policy. And so it goes in Kansas. In September, the University of Kansas suspended David W. Guth, a tenured journalism professor, after he responded to the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard with this comment on Twitter: "#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you." Jason Jaschik, Fireable Tweets, Inside Higher Education, Dec. 19, 2013). In response, and in the face of a supposed absence of rules for dealing with this sort of old fashioned malediction or curse, the Kansas Regents rushed in with a broad effort to control the behavior of its academics.
But they have done more. The Kansas Regents have seen in the unfortunate malediction of a professor an opportunity for more broadly controlling the academics of Kansas--certainly far beyond the scope of the offense of the professor's tweeted curse. In doing so, Kansas appears to be moving towards embracing an educational culture of servility and docility at odds with the robust democracy in which, by the sacrifices of those who would not be docile or servile, it operates. Under a new set of Kansas Board of Regents rules, faculty and other employees may be suspended, dismissed or terminated from employment for “improper use of social media.” Docility and servility to one's master, whether that master acquires power by force (no longer formally possible in this Republic) or through wages, appears to be the core value that the Regents of the Kansas Board of Regents wish to instill in the children who are to be schooled in the institutions over which they now assert a control that a century ago might have been characterized as a species of Victorian-Edwardian house service more fit for the disciplining of the staff of 19th century English manor houses than for the robust global society that the United States must learn to navigate in or perish in this century. And so a professor's curse has now come back to haunt that portion of the Kansas academy subject to the administrative ukases of the Kansas Board of Regents.
This post includes the text of the Kansas Regents--HERE and below. It also includes text of the AAUP Statement on the Kansas Board of Regents Social Media Policy (December 20, 2013) and some brief thoughts that apply some of the insights developed in Backer, Larry Catá, Between Faculty, Administration, Board, State, and Students: On the Relevance of a Faculty Senate in the Modern U.S. University (February 10, 2013).