ASU Performance Review Could Chill Free Speech


The revised Adams State University (ASU) Exempt Employee Performance Review includes numerous “behavior examples” that function as speech codes in the workplace. There are many obvious criteria that would strike one as reasonable, however there are directives that some ASU employees characterize as pernicious intrusions on individual speech and could chill free expression.

Given ASU’s purported commitment to “robust academic discourse,” these restrictions on free expression call into question the conflict between employee conduct and academic freedom. Examples of performance review criteria that codify and could restrict free expression include:

  • Actions and speech reflect a commitment to the agency.
  • Never disparages the agency or its employees in public.
  • Conveys a positive and professional image of the agency to others.
  • Avoids gossip and negative rumors.
  • Creates a positive work environment and influences the behavior of other employees by their supportive and optimistic approach to daily activities within the work environment.
  • Treats others with courtesy and respect.
  • Is cooperative and responsive.
  • Builds trust and works with integrity.
  • Treats others with respect, courtesy, tact, and friendliness and actively attempts to be helpful towards others.
  • Accepts criticism, is open to new ideas, and handles conflict constructively and diplomatically.
  • Works through conflict for positive solutions/results.
  • Promotes cooperation and teamwork.
  • Learns from conflict and makes appropriate changes.

Caprice Lawless, 2nd Vice President at American Association of University Professors and Instructor at Front Range Community College, reacted to this Exempt Employee Performance review: “I always think of college professors as energetic and eccentric professionals charged with intellectual pursuits. Some I had were mild, some fiery, some interesting to speak with or listen to, some not so much, but all taught me well. I sensed their collegiality in the way they greeted one another on campus. I liked all of them for their striking differences. L do not know what to make of this recipe for conformity.”

Melinda Myrick, an English Instructor at Front Range Community College, shared similar concerns about this code of behavior examples: “It runs counter to why we went to college and why we want to teach on college campuses. It feels like a bad attempt to control what should not be controlled: free speech. But what bothers me the most is that I spent years in the private industry world and NEVER saw policy guidelines like this. Can you imagine the hipsters of Facebook, Google, and Twitter reacting to this nonsense? It’s just so desperate.”

Upon review, one ASU employee described these speech codes as “un-American nonsense.”

This Exempt Employee Performance Review is also not the only document to contain codifications of speech, such as always conveying a positive impression of the agency and never disparaging the agency in public.  Similar documents include the Uniform Statewide Core Competencies.

Several other employee performance review standards caught one employee’s attention:

5a. Identifies problem areas before they escalate into a crisis.
5b. Makes sound decisions when critical situations occur.
5d. Looks at problems with clarity, logic, and coolness and makes decisions based on facts.

Reflecting on ASU President Beverlee McClure’s own conduct over the past year, the employee asked, “can we evaluate McClure on a few of these?”

In related news, President McClure’s annual performance evaluations have been released but all comments were redacted by ASU HR. They can be viewed online here.