WKU removes social media policy from student handbook

Michael McKay

WKU has removed its “inappropriate” communications policy and put a new one in its place.

Robbin Taylor, vice president for Public Relations, said at a forum on social media hosted by the Institute for Citizenship and Social Responsibility on Tuesday that the old policy had been removed.

“Today, I believe you will find that aspect of the handbook is not there,” Taylor said.

The student handbook was unavailable online Tuesday. On Thursday, a section called “Threats, Coercion, Harassment, Intimidation, or Hostile Communication” was added, which replaced the old policy on the same page.

The new policy states, “Careful examination of the Student Code of Conduct will be exercised prior to any action in order to preserve freedoms.”

Taylor said SGA Senator Christopher Costa has been involved with meetings with administrators in the editing process.

Costa said when he first became a  member of SGA, he thought it would be prudent to investigate policies in the handbook. He said a quick Google search led him to thefire.org.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a higher education watchdog organization, gave WKU a “red light” ranking in August 2011, which means an institution “has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

“I did find (the policy) first, but the FIRE apparently had been on top of it since it had been in the student handbook,” Costa said.  

Costa introduced a resolution to SGA about removing the policy in February but took the resolution out after he found the administration was willing to meet about the issue.

Costa said he was invited to be involved in the editing process with administrators but never participated in editing because he only had one meeting with officials.

“I’m assuming that was before the ACLU filed their open records request,” Costa said.

Costa said The American Civil Liberties Union filed an open records request concerning the policy last week.

“I can only assume — I don’t know for sure — that under pressure from the ACLU that they either changed it of their own volition or maybe the ACLU submitted something more constitutional,” Costa said.

Costa said his involvement with the administration was a meeting with Howard Bailey, vice president for Student Affairs, and Michael Crowe, director of Judicial Affairs, in February.

“Howard Bailey and Michael Crowe were not amiable to changing the policy when I met with them,” Costa said. “They were very reluctant to changing the policy because they felt that they needed the policy to be the way it was written in order to conduct a certain level to discipline on campus regarding students.”

After the forum, Taylor said she could not answer specific questions about the policy, like when the policy was removed or when a new policy would be implemented.

“I can’t answer your questions about the policy — I’m not Student Affairs,” Taylor said on Tuesday. “What I can tell you is that it’s been taken down for editing.”

Taylor said WKU would be looking to other universities to see their policies on social media but didn’t say when a new policy would be announced.

Costa said he was surprised when he heard Taylor announce at the forum that the policy was down for editing.

“Unless Howard Bailey and Mr. Crowe told her differently, I do not get the impression that they were willing to change the policy without a good measure of pushing,” Costa said.

Howard Bailey, the author of the original policy, didn’t respond to requests for comment for this story.

Bailey told the Herald on Feb. 28 that there weren’t plans to change the policy.

“I don’t know if it needs to be changed,” Bailey said. “If changes do occur, it will be in the summer when the policies in the handbook are reviewed.”

Crowe declined to comment for this story.