Academic Freedom in the Heartland: Rights Consciousness and the United States Supreme Court

  •  Darren Botello-Samson    


In late 2013, the Kansas Board of Regents proposed a social media policy, a policy which the board eventually unanimously approved. The policy authorized “the chief executive officer of a state university…to suspend, dismiss or terminate from employment any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media.” A strong and unified condemnation of the policy followed, led primarily by the faculty of those institutions and their various faculty governance organizations. This conflict between the free speech rights of academics and the governing authority of government and university administrations in the state of Kansas was neither the first nor last such conflict; U.S. courts had already established a doctrine over the free speech rights of public employees. Therefore, this conflict presents an opportunity to observe how the judicial establishment and definition of rights affects subsequent political conflict and discourse. The conflict over the social media policy adopted by the Kansas Board of Regents raises questions of whether the established judicial articulations of free speech in an academic setting shaped the efforts of Kansas faculty in opposition to this policy and the crafting of the policy itself.

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