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Winter Break brought sweeping changes to the communication policy for all public university’s faculty and staff. Under the new South Dakota Board of Regents (SDBOR) policy titled, “Communications and Branding,” the SDBOR limited official communication standards to name, location, and institution. 

The policy includes that any further information, graphics, or links not previously listed are prohibited,and may lead to disciplinary action.

The new rule has implications for both faculty and students that would prohibit the use of personal pronouns and certain expressions in email signatures.

Holly Farris, General Counsel to SDBOR, said in an email that the policy change was part of an ongoing commitment to communication within the Board of Regents system. 

University employees were instructed to standardize their email signatures in compliance with the policy. However, one faculty member opposes these changes.

Sandy McKeown, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice and Constitutional Law Instructor, is concerned about her First Amendment rights.

“Although the state does have an interest in what public employees are saying on behalf of the state, that does not mean the state has the right to control all of the words that we say,” Mckeown said.

Employees that share their pronouns do so because they want to stand in solidarity with other students, faculty and staff, according to McKeown. 

“When people choose to alert others of their pronouns, they are simply sharing part of their identity,” McKeown said. 

There are concerns among faculty that they won’t be able to use their other titles in their signatures, according to McKeown.

“Sharing accomplishments, current research projects, books pending publication and important academic titles they hold outside of the BOR is a professional norm for academics, which promotes USD’s interests, and this policy prohibits that,” McKeown said. 

McKeown is concerned about disciplinary action taken against faculty and staff who don’t abide by the policy.

“It puts faculty in a position to decide if they will put their personal identity in their signature and face punishment, or not doing that and not being true to themselves and not standing in solidarity with others,” McKeown said.

Pronouns aren’t the only speech prohibited in the new policy. The policy standardizes email signatures, and in part, bans faculty from sharing tribal affiliation and land acknowledgement statements.

Land acknowledgement statements seek to recognize indigenous peoples and their ancestral lands.

Native American students like Jayda Knuppe care about the importance of land acknowledgement while communicating with faculty and staff.

“Land acknowledgement is important while recognizing our history. Since we do have nine tribal nations in South Dakota, I think we need to embrace the diversity that we have on campus, especially since a good portion of USD’s Native students are from the reservations,” Knuppe said.

There are 154 Native American students enrolled at USD. 

“Professors and faculty sharing their identity isn’t only reassuring, but we can also relate with them,” Knuppe said.

The Volante reached out to the Board of Regents for comment and did not receive a response. 

The SDBOR will meet April 3 at USD, where discussion is expected about the new email policy. Per their website, a specific location for the meeting has not been announced, but the meeting will be open to the public.