Letter to the Editor: Social media restrictions inhibit freedom

To the editor,

The University has recently asserted the right to tell all employees how to use their own personal Facebook accounts.  Last Wednesday, Vice President for Communications Pete Mackey posted “Social Media Guidelines for All Personnel” to the Message Center directing our attention to this webpage:  http://www.bucknell.edu/x68141.xml. The page lists a series of policies and guidelines about the use of social media by branches of the university, and it says “… if your personal site identifies you as a Bucknell employee, you are representing the University and these guidelines apply accordingly.”  [Emphasis in original.]

So I may say what I wish only if I do not identify my professional affiliation? This is pointlessly demeaning to all employees, of course. But for the faculty this policy violates two bedrock principles of the University: 1) academic freedom, wherein the University seeks to protect the right of the faculty to express themselves however they think is important and appropriate, and 2) shared governance, which says that the faculty will be involved in adopting the rules for their own role at the University.

I asked Pete Mackey several times how he justified this rule, and he would only point to a statement from AAUP (a national professors’ organization) that says faculty have an obligation to avoid appearing to speak for the University.  How this professor-to-professor statement of a self-evident principle justifies the University unilaterally claiming oversight powers on private faculty speech is unclear to me.

A number of untenured faculty have told me already that they have removed their University affiliation from their Facebook profiles because they fear they will overstep some line.  This is a harmful stifling of free speech, and it feeds destructive paranoia about the nature of  the University among the people who should become future faculty leaders in the institution.

Ben Marsh

Department of Geography & Program in Environmental Studies

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