January 28, 2014



From the Provost’s Desk: Social media

By April Mason

I was raised in a family of five children. Our terminal degrees range from construction engineering to theater, to secondary education to nutrition. My father was a corporate executive. He sold tires — lots of them. My mother was a geography teacher in middle school and loved history. Can you imagine the discussions around the kitchen table?

Some Masons saw things in black and white. Some saw issues in a broad palette of shades with nuances. Political discussions were heated. Sometimes my mother would sigh and remind us to eat our Brussels sprouts. Never, but never, did a voice get silenced. It might have gotten yelled over, but never silenced. My father did not like the ideas of some of his offspring, but he defended our rights to have those ideas. Both our parents continued to love us even if they sometimes could not understand how we were their kids.

So I see the “family” of Kansas State University. Our majors and our ideas span many spectrums. We may not agree with our “siblings” in all matters, but we defend their right to have those ideas. The academic atmosphere is one I hold dear as it allows for free debate, discussion and disagreement, but holds all safe from repercussions for their different beliefs.

My firm philosophy on many issues was formed during my college years when I heard faculty explore different ideas and assign reading that challenged me to think and analyze. How much more strongly do I hold certain beliefs because I have debated them with others? How do our own Kansas State University students learn to engage in critical thinking without discussions and debates of ideas different from their own?

Right before the winter holidays, the Kansas Board of Regents passed a policy related to the use of social media. OK, true confession: I don’t tweet. I have told the president he does enough for both of us. I do, however, defend our academic right to tweet and to tweet what we think, blog what we think, Facebook what we think, use the many ever developing social media fora to express what we think.

Some may disagree with what we put in social media, but it is our right to use the media and not fear retribution for doing so. There are exceptions to this of course. We cannot divulge personal student information in this public venue, and we resist the potential incitement of violence. 

The Board of Regents heard from many on our campus, many throughout the Regents university system and from national media outlets that the new social media policy was flawed. The policy stands as is, but a task force has been formed to evaluate it and give input to the Regents from our campus prospective.

There are two issues here. The first is our fundamental academic freedom and freedom of speech as faculty, staff and students of an academic institution. The second is collaborating with the Kansas Board of Regents during the process of policymaking, ensuring opportunities for input and dialogue that can inform and help shape the final results.

The Regents meet monthly September through June. Presidents, provosts, chief financial officers, faculty senate leaders and student leaders meet side by side with them monthly. Opportunities abound for discussion, opinion letting and input. We have wrestled with geographic jurisdiction of the Regents universities, program duplication, program reviews and many other issues. This social media policy was not vetted, discussed, or opined on in advance of the December board meeting and its passage for immediate effectiveness.

Both of these issues must be addressed. Julia Keen and Jeff Morris are the Kansas State University representatives on the task force to review and give feedback to the Regents on the social media policy. I know they want your input. I commit to working with the Regents to seek our input in advance to avoid the type of ill will and national negative attention we have recently received. We can do better. We must do better.