Lawyers react to WKU policy change

Michael McKay

The inclusion of the new policy on social media in the student handbook did not miss National advocacy groups.

A section called “Threats, Coercion, Harassment, Intimidation, or Hostile Communication” was added to the student handbook on Thursday, replacing a social media policy that caused a stir on WKU’s campus.

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

SGA Senator Christopher Costa, who was involved with the policy change, told the Herald last week that the American Civil Liberties Union filed an open records request on WKU’s social media polices.

William E. Sharp, staff attorney with the ACLU in Kentucky, said WKU officials are providing them with information about both policies.

“This issue came to our attention and we submitted an open records act request to find out more information about WKU’s policies and practices regarding students’ use of social media,” Sharp said. “Specifically trying to figure out to what extent, if any, WKU’s activities may implicate student’s First Amendment speech rights.”

Sharp said the ACLU is still gathering information.

“At this point, we’re not prepared to say one way or another what our position is, we’re simply in the investigatory phase communicating with WKU regarding this policy,” he said.

Costa told the Herald that he thought the ACLU was responsible for the policy change.

“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.

Sharp said the ACLU was not involved with the changing of the policy and will be looking at both during their review.

Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate with the Student Press Law Center, said the obstacle with the old policy was the ambiguity with the word “inappropriate.”

“Inappropriate is a word that doesn’t have a fixed meaning,” he said. “It means ‘something I don’t like’ — obviously the constitutional standard is higher than that. The new policy exactly toes that constitutional line.”

Goldstein said the new policy is similar to schools that have come under criticism with their policies but not similar to most schools’ policies.

“It is unusual, which is in itself unusual, because it’s strange to think that it’s a minority of universities that go out of their way to say, ‘we’re not going to break any laws,’” he said. “But until they are confronted in the way WKU was confronted, a lot of them haven’t really thought about it.”

Goldstein said a lot of times at universities, policies are written by administrators rather than lawyers.

Dallas, Texas, senior Mario Nguyen’s reaction to the first policy was severe.

Nguyen started a campaign to have people unfriend and unfollow Facebook and Twitter accounts associated with WKU.

Nguyen said he thought the removal of the policy would help to extend WKU’s reach.

“I’m really excited to see what avenues it opens up,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen said his campaign was something that started and died out quickly. He said he did his part to raise awareness of the policy.

“At least I did inform people,” he said.

Nguyen is graduating in May and said he plans to follow the @WKU twitter account and friend President Gary Ransdell’s Facebook page again.

Nguyen said he also plans to use the hashtag #WKU for anything he pleases to say about the university.

WKU officials could not be reached for this story.