Kansas Board Says Universities Can Fire Employees for ‘Improper’ Tweets

The Kansas Board of Regents unanimously approved new policy language on Wednesday that gives state university leaders the authority “to suspend, dismiss, or terminate from employment any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media.”

Fred Logan, the board’s chairman, told the Lawrence Journal-World that the policy change had been “inspired by” the uproar over a controversial tweet about the National Rifle Association that was posted by David W. Guth, a faculty member at the University of Kansas, in the wake of the September 16 shootings at the Washington Navy Yard.

The new language is an addition to a section of the Board Policy Manual that deals with suspensions, dismissals, and terminations. It outlines a number of ways in which use of social-media sites like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook might be considered improper. Among them are any communication made through social media that is pursuant to an employee’s official duties and “contrary to the best interests of the university.” Other improper uses include inciting violence or disclosing protected information like student records, or any communication that “impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers.”

Mr. Logan said in a news release that the goal of the policy was “to provide guidance to all university employees and university administration regarding the use of social media.” He said the board had drawn on language from U.S. Supreme Court cases “to acknowledge the right of employees generally to speak as private citizens on matters of public concern while also recognizing the right of employers to take action in situations involving unprotected speech.”

Mr. Guth, an associate professor of journalism, was placed on leave in September after his Twitter post angered many people who thought he was wishing death on the children of NRA members. He has since returned to work, performing administrative duties. The university has said he will not be allowed to return to the classroom this year.

Mr. Logan declined to speculate on whether Mr. Guth could have been fired under the new policy.

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