Monday, March 17, 2014

Proposing a Set of Social Media Policy Guidelines For Penn State University

(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)

I have written about emerging efforts to manage the speech of faculty in American Universities.
1. Kansas Social Media Policy to be Reconsidered; Does a Segmented Approach to Academic Freedom Follow?

2. The Rising Price of Speech on Campus

3. A Malediction for Academia--The Kansas Regents and the New Social Media Policy--Docility and Servility Against Academic Freedom and the Need for Contractual Protection

4. The AAUP Issues a Revised Version of "Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications"

5. "Sandusky's Ghost" and the Weaponizing of Scandal--Administrative Disciplining of Faculty at the University of Colorado

It is clear that the issue of faculty access to social media is emerging as an important issue, and likely the subject of efforts to regulate faculty access to these media, later if not sooner. Yet the important issues that this instinct to regulate may, as in the case of the original efforts by the Kansas Board of Regents discussed above, lead to the wrong kind of regulatory approach--one grounded in a short sighted effort to suppress and control, rather than one to provide a reasonable set of guidelines that recognizes the important interests of individuals (who also happen to work for a university) and the university itself. The better sort of regulatory approach is one that starts from the foundational principle of academic freedom and the general American principle of enhancing the human dignity of individuals, but one that is also sensitive to the important institutional role of the university on the life of society the the need to preserve its place and legitimacy within the social fabric of this Republic.

It is also clear that the sorts of regulatory conversations that might lead to reasonable approaches to the management of speech on social media, might best be undertaken jointly by faculty and administration. But the experience in other systems also suggests that such a conversation is best undertaken with faculty rather than as an administration developed product that faculty might be permitted to comment, but with the development of which faculty are not permitted to engage.

Taking the new draft guidelines proposed for the Kansas university system as a model, one developed by a task force of university faculty and administrators, I offer for adoption by the Penn State Faculty Senate, and through it by the university, a set of guidelines for implementing a reasonable and respectful set of social media policies for Penn State.

The resolution follows

March 18, 2014
Offered by Larry Catá Backer, W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar & Professor of Law, Professor of International Affairs, 2013-14 Immediate Past Chair University Faculty Senate

WHEREAS, In keeping with The Pennsylvania State University’s commitment to the principles of academic freedom, the University supports the responsible use of existing and emerging communications technologies, including social media, to serve the teaching, research, and public service missions of Penn State. 

WHEREAS, the University remains respectful of the individual human dignity of its faculty, staff and students, and recognizes that its authority to as an employer cannot justify or extend to efforts to control the lawful expressive conduct of individuals not made in the course of their employment, narrowly but reasonable defined.

WHEREAS, faculty are mindful of their position as members of a learned profession, whose expressive conduct may touch on their professional as well as personal roles, and their obligation to respect the interest of the University in its own reputation. 

BE IT RESOLVED THAT, the University, through a committee constituted therefor made up equal representatives of non-administrative faculty (chosen by the University Faculty Senate Council) and administration personnel (chosen in such manner as may be determined by them), and in consultation with the Penn State University Faculty Senate, shall adopt guidelines to advise all university employees on use of social media.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, the guidelines shall encourage the responsible use of social media by all employees but not restrict the use of social media except as described here.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT, such social media guidelines shall conform to the following rules, premises and limitations:

1. Social media means any facility for online publication and commentary.

2. The guidelines shall suggest non-exclusive ways in which social media technologies may be used to serve the university’s mission and shall encourage these uses. In doing so, the guidelines shall assure all employees that improper use of social media shall not be interpreted to include any use of social media in the following:

i the content of any academic research and other scholarly activities;
ii the content of any academic instruction;
iii the content of any statements, debate, or expressions made as part of shared governance at a university whether made by a group or employee; or,
iv in general, any communication via social media that is consistent with First Amendment protections and that is otherwise permissible under the law.

3. The guidelines shall remind employees that their authorship of content on social media may violate existing law or policy and may be addressed through university disciplinary processes if, but only if, it:

i is intentionally directed to inciting or producing imminent violence or other breach of the peace and is likely to incite or produce such action;
ii violates existing employee policies addressing professional misconduct that do not contradict or are inconsistent with these guidelines;
iii discloses without lawful authority any confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data.

4. The guidelines also shall advise employees that when using social media to speak as a citizen they should be mindful of the balance struck by the 1940 Statement of Principles of the American Association of University Professors:

College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations. As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.

5. The guidelines shall recognize the rights and responsibilities of all employees, including faculty and staff, to speak on matters of public concern as private citizens, if they choose to do so.

6.  The guidelines shall recognize the rights and responsibilities of the university for the operation of social media that it hosts, and recognizes that the university may impose reasonable rules for the use of these university owned or operated sites.

6. The guidelines on use of social media shall apply prospectively from its date of adoption by the University.