Kansas City Art Institute reins in campus speech following free speech controversy

A new social media policy at Kansas City Art Institute will prohibit "bullying" and "intentionally or unintentionally" causing distress to others via social media platforms.

The decision followed a free speech controversy which resulted in the institute reversing a decision to expel a student because of a retweet.

The Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) revised its social media policy in a way that further limits students’ freedom of speech following a controversy that resulted in a student being suspended for retweeting an explicit cartoon on Twitter. 

The new policy, updated in August, prohibits electronic communication that “is discriminatory or sexual harrasing [sic], threatening, and/or bullying.” This extends to sharing posts that cause “disruption on campus” or unintentionally cause “distress.”

The policy clarifies that the school does not “monitor students’ personal social media platforms or other electronic communication,” but reminds students that the online realm is “in the public sphere and [is] not private.”

[RELATED: University pays $30k in free speech lawsuit]

“Students are advised to be respectful, responsible, and accountable for their use of electronic communication, as well as recognize student’s right to make a statement does not mean that there are no consequences in terms of the message’s impact on others, judgments made by others about the student, or the impact on their future employment,” the policy reads.

The new policy follows a summer controversy that put the Institute under criticism regarding its commitment to free speech.

On June 15, Assistant Dean of Students Joe Timson informed student Ash Mikkelsen that Mikkelsen had reportedly violated KCAI policy by re-tweeting a sexually explicit cartoon, known as hentai, on a pseudonymous Twitter.

The warning alleged that Mikkelsen’s post “contributed to the development of a hostile environment and reflect[ed] potential Sexual Harassment.” Mikkelsen was expelled on June 29.

[RELATED: Florida university restricts speech that creates an 'offensive' campus environment]

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression defended Mikkelsen, who was re-enrolled in July.

FIRE Program Officer Sabrina Conza told Campus Reform that “KCAI's free expression promises preclude it from punishing students for their protected speech,” and that the organization “will continue to criticize KCAI and other universities for violating students' expressive rights.”

“Most significantly, KCAI's policy doesn't include that critical ‘objectively offensive’ component, which means a student's subjective view that another student's verbal conduct adversely affected their education — no matter how unreasonable that view may be — is sufficient to punish them for harassment,” she explained. 

Campus Reform reached out to KCAI and Timson for comment. This article will be updated accordingly.