The Kansas Board of Regents unveiled a controversial social media policy on Wednesday that critics say restricts free speech for academics.
The Board of Regents, which oversees six state universities, approved the policy in response to an inflammatory tweet sent out by University of Kansas associate professor David Guth.
Back in September, Guth blamed the National Rifle Association for the Washington Navy Yard shooting, wishing ill will towards members’ children.
“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,” David W. Guth, who teaches journalism, wrote on twitter on the Monday after a gunman killed 12 people on Sept. 16.
The tweet prompted regents officials to suspend Guth indefinitely and conduct an internal review of their policy with respect to social media.
“When the incident with David Guth occurred at the University of Kansas, it made the nine-member board realize no policy existed regarding the use of social media,” Breeze Richardson, a board of regents spokeswoman, told The Kansas City Star.
“The goal was to craft a constitutionally sound policy, utilizing Supreme Court language, that does not violate the free speech or due process rights of university employees while also establishing guidelines for employees and employers,” Richardson continued.
However, critics argue that the new policy does violate the free speech of the regents’ faculty because of its vague criteria for which professors, even those with tenure, can be fired.
According to the policy, faculty and staff who post messages that incite violence, reveal confidential information or research data or are “contrary to the best interest of the university” are subject to disciplinary measures, including suspension and termination.
The Editorial staff at The Kansas City Star called the new policy “wrongheaded,” criticizing that it was “devised with no input from faculty members” and suggesting that it sets up “a chilling environment that runs contrary to the ideal of academic freedom.”
This stinging critique was apparently echoed by the American Association of University Professors which said that the policy raised “significant questions about academic freedom.”
Though, in response to the backlash, a spokesperson for the regents board said that the new policy was simply a “guidance document” and not an ironclad edict.
As for professor Guth, he is back at work. However, he is not allowed to teach for the remainder of the academic year. Instead, he’s been relegated to administrative duties that are met “away from campus to the greatest extent possible,” according to a university statement.