Friday, December 27, 2013
Duck Dynasty and Tenure
As I've stated before, the situation surrounding the patriarch of "Duck Dynasty", Phil Robertson, is one that holds little or no interest to me. In spite of statements by Sarah Palin, this is not a First Amendment issue, nor if the truth were known, is it even a matter of Free Speech. In point of fact, it's a matter of contract law between Mr. Robertson and the Arts and Entertainment Network.
I don't know much about the show, since the level of cable that I carry doesn't include this particular network, though I understand that it's well received and has a lot of fans. (So do the Kardashians, and I've managed to by and large ignore them as well.) I also understand that some of the things that Mr. Robertson said in his interview with GQ (as well as in other previous statements) regarding gay people and minorities were considered offensive by some and a blow against religious freedom by others. But what they are in fact doesn't matter to me and shouldn't matter to anyone except in the context of the language of his employment agreement. (If you're not familiar with specifics of such agreements, by all means feel free to look them up.)
Now personally, I consider GQ offensive by nature as a publication. No matter what the original purpose of this rag may have been; what's left is devoted to a 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous' attitude that's little more than an attempted exploitation of class warfare and the snobbish pursuits of the 1%. I've resolved my personal problem with this particular bit of obscenity however by failing to subscribe to the outdated bit of tripe in a largely irrelevant industry that it's become. I wouldn't even bring the subject up if it didn't relate to something I read this morning in the Kansas City Star that many are probably far less familiar with:
"Social media policy from Kansas Board of Regents threatens free speech" by Barbara Shelly. It seems that, "On Dec. 18, the governing board for the states’ higher education system decreed that campus officials can discipline or fire employees, including tenured professors, for statements they make on social media.
With that move, Kansas became the first state to endanger the career of an academic because of something expressed in a tweet, blog post or Facebook entry."
Now for those not living between Kansas City and Wichita, this received little media attention, so a bit of explanation is probably necessary. This policy elucidation resulted from a tweet made by Professor Dr. David Guth of the Journalism Department at the University of Kansas soon after the shootings at the Navy Yard in Washington DC last September that resulted in the deaths of 13 people, and which stated: "#NavyYardShooting The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you." He later apologized for the the posting, stating though he was a 'professional communicator', (Really! What a clever disguise you've discovered in this epic failure.) and that he didn't do a good job of explaining his position. (No shit Sherlock!)
Ms. Shelly not surprisingly, is shocked at the policy decision made by the Board of Regents, seeing it as little more than caving in to conservative state legislators (who after all, only control University funding). She would like to have this policy scrapped, since not only didn't they talk to the faculty before implementing it, but they ignored a letter that they got from the Foundation For Rights in Education, a First Amendment Group. Apparently, tenured professors should be allowed to say what they want behind the protected status of their positions, and ignore the reality that their potentially offensive statements reflect upon the Universities that they work for. Even if they are objectionable (or actionable against the University), they're made with a good heart. She points out that the only people the Regents apparently did talk to, unfortunately, were lawyers. (Well heaven forbid that the Regents would want to insure that a significant policy change was legal!)
Now I'm not a big fan of adding to the world's rules and regulations, but good for them. Such actions not only reflect clear thinking, but fall well within the libertarian notion that my freedoms end at the point that they affect the freedoms of my neighbor. Since such very public pronouncements can affect the bottom line of the University; as employers they should have the right to set policy with regard to such controversial or inflammatory statements. 'With great power comes great responsibility'. (I think I read that in a comic book once.)
Neither of the situations described are First Amendment issues, nor are they subject to the whim of public petition or polling. Both are situations which are ultimately only between an employer and an employee and their contract together. Like the Board of Directors at the Arts and Entertainment Network, the University Board of Regents is responsible for setting employee policy and once set, insuring that all such policies be issued in writing. If they choose to make one regarding statements released in interviews to the mass media, posted on Facebook, or Tweeted on Twitter, that's their privilege. Many companies are far behind the curve in dealing with social media, their management being of a an age that doesn't understand it in the first place; so it's not surprising that it takes controversy to inspire them to get around to it.
Once they do get around to setting policy in such situations however and regardless of the motivations for doing so, employees are contractually obligated to follow them or face disciplinary action up to and including termination. As for all of the rest of us weighing in on the subject, we can all 'shut the hell up'.
four days and counting ...