Sunday, January 5, 2014

Kansas Social Media Policy to be Reconsidered; Does a Segmented Approach to Academic Freedom Follow?

(Kansas Board of Regents, Fred Logan, Chair from their website; HERE for the current board of regents )

It now appears that after a healthy amount of bad press the Board of Regents has appeared to reconsider its original decision to go forward with the media policy.  Both they have gone about this in a curious way.  As reported by Nick DeSantis:
The board said in a news release that, because of those concerns, Mr. Logan had asked the board’s chairman “to work with the university presidents and chancellor to form a work group of representatives from each state-university campus to review the policy.”

Mr. Logan asked that the group’s recommendations for changing the policy be presented by April. (Nick DeSantis, Kansas Regents Will Reconsider Controversial Social-Media Policy, Chronicle of Higher Education, Dec. 31, 2013 (Fred Logan is the chair of the Kansas Board of Regents))

The Press Release follows along with some thoughts about this path that the Kansas Regents insists on following.

December 31, 2013

Board Recommends Workgroup to Review Policy

(Topeka, Kansas) - Because of concerns expressed regarding the Board of Regents’ policy regarding the improper use of social media, Board Chair Fred Logan has asked Andy Tompkins, President and CEO of the Board, to work with the University Presidents and Chancellor to form a workgroup of representatives from each state university campus to review the policy.

Regent Logan requests that any recommendations for amendments to the policy from the workgroup be presented to the Board’s Governance Committee by April 2014.


About the Kansas Board of Regents:

The nine-member Kansas Board of Regents, founded in 1925 and established in the Kansas Constitution, is the governing board of the six state universities and the statewide coordinating board for the state’s 32 public higher education institutions (six state universities, one municipal university, nineteen community colleges, and six technical colleges). In addition, the Board administers the state’s student financial aid, adult education, GED, career and technical education programs, and the state university retirement plans. The Board also approves private proprietary schools and out-of-state institutions to operate in Kansas and administers the Kan-ed network, a statewide network that provides broadband Internet access and distance learning capabilities for schools, hospitals, and libraries. Visit the Kansas Board of Regents online at

For more information, contact Mary Jane Stankiewicz at (785) 260-5086 (cell) or
 There are several interesting  aspects to this decision.

1.  There will be a social media policy, and there will be rules that will focus on the new meaning of impropriety in the use of  certain forms of expression.  The odd thing is that while it might have been natural to use the structures and definitions of appropriate conduct developed to guide academic freedom generally under the various AAUP statements (to which Kansas universities subscribe), the Board of Regents intends to bypass the AAUP and go its own way.

2.  One result may be to segment academic freedom in ways that are quite troubling.  Social media serves as a means of academic expression in a way that is similar (or is in some respects emerging as similar) to traditional venues for the dissemination of knowledge and opinion.  While these traditional means of dissemination (traditional journals and book publication and discussion in live conferences or meetings) are protected under academic freedom standards it appears that new forms of knowledge dissemination may not be.  The result might be to make new sources of technology unavailable to academic (or to chill innovation in knowledge dissemination for fear of distinct academic freedom regimes dependent on the form of dissemination) and to make the business of academics more obsolete and unable to serve their stakeholders effectively (students, government, wage labor markets, etc). It would also put American academics at a competitive disadvantage.  This is no doubt not on the front burner of the Regents, still fuming over the use of social media for maledictions by faculty.

3.  The behavior of the Kansas Board of Regents is actually quite illustrative of a recent and regrettable trend in education administration (and especially by the offices of University Presidents and provosts) of poor skills in the business of crafting effective regulation.  I am increasingly convinced that senior administrators ought to be required to take a course in effective regulatory drafting to avoid the increasing tendency toward a proliferation of regulations that tend to miss their targets and to create more harm than good. Usually bad crafting comes with an inability of regulators first to precisely define the problem that needs management and then to draft specifically around that problem.  Usually what happens is that administrators become lazy and craft regulations as broadly as possible (because, as is usually excuse, "we need to make sure we deal with issues we haven't thought through yet").  But that sort of laziness and aggression is irresponsible and administration officials ought to be held accountyabvke for it (and NO, it is no solution to "wink" at criticisms and suggest that "irt will never be applied te way the words of the regulation suggest). 

4.  The method chosen to modify the policy has both benefits and risks.  The benefits are obvious--it marks an indication that the Kansas Board is now seeking greater engagement from its principal stakeholders, in the form of the university presidents.  If done correctly that may provide an avenue for robust participation by faculty, through their institutional governance units, and the production of a policy that makes greater sense, including the articulation of objectives that ought to harmonize the AAUP's well established academic freedom rules with the specific managerial objectives that are meant to be served by these policies. All of that is to be applauded, though the applause is for the moment premature.  We do not know how the university presidents will work through their assignment.  And that brings me to risks.  There is nothing in the announcement to suggest any inclination toward a healthy transparency and engagement of principal stakeholders, including but not limited to faculty.  Indeed, read carefully, it suggests only that the Board Chair will try to work through damage control by foisting the Board's PR problem onto the university presidents.  The Board's objectives, and likely the desire to segment faculty communication, remains unchanged.  The Board's willingness to change its position is nowhere indicated.  If that is indeed the case then this is merely an exercis ein window dressing and ought to be condemned as such.

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