Missouri professor no longer deserves position

Communication department professor should uphold First Amendment

University of Missouri Assistant Professor of Communication Melissa Click must be fired.

If you’ve watched the video, then you are hereby excused from reading this rest of the column. If not, let me set the stage for you.

The video, shot by MU junior Mark Schierbecker, begins by focusing on MU senior Tim Tai, who is holding a camera and being surrounded by a crowd of people who want him, and all other journalists, to leave Carnahan Quad where a temporary encampment was set up by student activists. Students, who had been actively and peacefully protesting the university’s lack of response to ongoing incidents of discrimination and racism, were celebrating the resignation of university system president Tim Wolfe and the decision by MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin to move to a different role.

University of Missouri students circle tents on the Carnahan Quadrangle, locking arms to prevent media from entering the space following the resignation of President Timothy W. Wolfe on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015.
University of Missouri students circle tents on the Carnahan Quadrangle, locking arms to prevent media from entering the space following the resignation of President Timothy W. Wolfe on Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. (Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

Journalists had been moving freely through the public area encampment, but were suddenly asked to leave the area by organizers, who sent the following message via Twitter: “We ask for no media in the parameters so the place where people live, fellowship and sleep can be protected from twisted insincere narratives.” Soon, a human ring was in place around the encampment, and journalists — including students Tai and Schierbecker — were subjected to verbal taunts and shoving.

Although Schierbecker says nothing during the first portion of the video, Tai engages with those around him. He reminds everyone that the First Amendment protects his as well as their right to be in the space. Not that his words make a difference. In addition to students, Professor Richard J. “Chip” Callahan, chairman of religious studies and Click’s husband, joined the fray attempting to block access to the quad.

A university staffer — later identified as Director of Greek Life on Campus Janna Basler, who has since been placed on administrative leave — places herself between Tai and the students, and takes a lead role in badgering him to leave. The taunts escalate.

“You need to back up. … You lost this one, bro, back up. … You’re an unethical reporter; you won’t respect our space. … I don’t care about your job.”

As Basler and the crowd behind her begins to move forward, pushing Tai further away, Schierbecker is momentarily forgotten inside the parameter. He approaches Click and a student near one of the tents.

“I’m media,” he tells Click, “Can I talk to you?”

The response is fast and furious. Click yells at him, “No. You need to get out.” When he doesn’t, it appears Click grabs or pushes his camera. “Hey! Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here,” she yells to others in the area. When a student approaches Schierbecker and calmly begins to talk about the request for media members to vacate the encampment, Click interrupts. “You need to get out. You need to get out,” she says, placing her hand over the camera lens.

“This is public property,” he replies. Click’s retort is pure sarcasm in tone and content: “Yeah, that’s a really good one. I’m a communications faculty and I really get that argument, but you need to go. You need to go. You need to go.”

As Schierbecker is flanked by students and escorted away, Click continues to follow. “Can you all make room for this reporter to get out, please? He wants to go out pretty bad. And don’t let him back in.”

Schierbecker continues to record while more students come to stand in front of him with joined hands, as Click requested. A few seconds later, Click re-enters the screen, walking along the line of the human fence and applauding the effort by students. “The work you are doing is really important; we’ve got a lot of press trying to get in,” Click says. “Don’t let those reporters in.”

All faculty members who denied press members First Amendment rights on public property should suffer consequences for their bad actions. But Click, as a member of the communications department faculty, must be held to a higher standard. She must be fired — should have already been fired — for doing things she either knew were wrong, or for being too ignorant within her own field of study.

Faced with being ousted from her special appointment within the journalism department, Click chose to resign that post the day after the video was made public — but not her assistant professorship within the department of communication.

As to why Click had injected herself into a student demonstration in such an apparent leadership role we can only guess. But that she would use such a position within an organization demonstrating about injustice to encourage and commit injustice is its own atrocity — one that cannot be remedied by issuing a pithy apology, implying it was all taken out of context or the result of runaway emotions. No amount of context justifies a push to incite mob violence. Emotions, no matter how raw, aren’t justification for forgetting your ethics training and breaking the law.

The only thing Click is sorry about is that a camera captured her flawed judgment and horrific behavior. And the fact that she, as a member of the communication department, didn’t consider the power of such a video is all the more reason she does not deserve her post.

She has irrevocably stained the very student cause she supposedly supported, and became the “twisted insincere narrative” that MU students were hoping to expel. She should be ashamed, not a professor.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on November 15, 2015. Photo credit: Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS