Universities with strict social media policies risk trampling academic freedoms, one professor argues.

Jun 23 2014

Professor: Faculty Should Play Role in Taming Wild West of Academic Tweets

Universities with strict social media policies risk trampling academic freedoms, one professor argues.

Fostering the exchange of information and ideas is among the principles that guide universities. So why are faculty members often stymied on social media outlets like Twitter?

The topic has become a passion project for Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at California State University at East Bay, who delivered the plenary address at the American Association of University Professors' (AAUP) annual conference on June 12.

Institutions across academia are in the midst of drafting or revising their social media policies. But in his speech, Reichman said that too often, these policies are written without input from the faculty members who will be affected by the rules, Inside Higher Ed reported. He also downplayed the impact made by a 140-character tweet.

"A university that curtails free expression is likely to suffer far greater damage to its standing than any ill-considered or controversial social media message might cause," Reichman wrote in an opinion piece for EdTech: Focus on Higher Education.

Instead of disciplining or firing a professor responsible for a controversial tweet, Reichman said, universities should lessen restrictions on Tweets made by professors. Meanwhile, the AAUP maintains that universities should insist that professors include a disclaimer that a tweeted opinion does not represent that of the institution.

The debate over social media use in the academic world was reignited in December, when the Kansas Board of Regents revised the social media policy for state universities, allowing administrators to suspend or fire educators for social media posts deemed harmful to the institution, according to Inside Higher Ed.

The policy was instituted in response to a tweet from a University of Kansas journalism professor who lashed out at the National Rifle Association after the September 2013 Navy Yard shootings in Washington, D.C., The College Fix reported. The professor was suspended for his actions.

The AAUP also updated its recommended social media policy, Academic Freedom and Electronic Communications, in December, applying the rules that govern printed freedom of expression within academia to electronic posts, such as those on social media outlets.

The only exception: “the most unusual situation where the very nature of the medium itself might warrant unusual restrictions.”

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