Melissa Click, the University of Missouri communications professor who garnered widespread scorn for trying to physically remove a student reporter from a campus protest, was formally charged with assault Monday morning.
A spokeswoman for the Columbia prosecutor’s office said Click was charged with third-degree assault, a class C misdemeanor that carries a possible 15-day jail sentence.
“This is a very bad situation for us all,” interim Chancellor Hank Foley said at a university news conference Monday afternoon,. He also apologized to the students involved in faculty attempts to block media from documenting a campus protest on Nov. 9.
Click was caught on video calling for “some muscle” to remove a student reporter from an area on the campus where protesters had gathered.
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Mark Schierbecker, an MU student and videographer, has accused Click of grabbing his camera and pushing him while he was making the video. His video also included a confrontation between another student journalist, Tim Tai, and Janna Basler, the assistant director for Greek life and leadership at MU. Basler was later put on administrative leave.
The protests eventually led to the resignation of University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and Mizzou Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. During the news conference, Foley said a university task force consisting of faculty members, students, administrators and staff has been formed to look into what happened on Nov. 9 that led to the Click charges.
Click remains an assistant professor in the department of communications. Foley said Click is seeking full tenure at the school, and that process won’t be completed until this summer. Click is working from home this week and could not be reached for comment Monday.
Last month a group of 100 Republican state legislators publicly called for the university to fire Click. They were joined last month by David Steelman, a member of the university system’s board of curators.
In response, a group of more than 100 Mizzou faculty wrote a letter of support for Click to the university’s leadership.
Foley said on Monday that those 100 signatures represented only a small portion of the more than 1,000 ranked faculty members at MU. And he said those calling for the chancellor to fire Click outright “have a misunderstanding about how things work here. The role of the chancellor is not the same as CEO of a for-profit corporation.”
Click is about a third of the way through what is sometimes a yearlong process toward gaining tenure status, Foley said. Tenure affords faculty certain protections against termination.
The tenure process reviews a professor’s body of work, including research, teaching, scholarship and service, and considers conduct when it is relevant. A recommendation on tenure is made to the chancellor who ultimately would decide whether Click “is someone who should receive tenure at this university,” Foley said. He described the process as careful and thorough.
Professors who are not awarded tenure are terminated within a year, Foley said.
For now Foley has asked the MU provost along with the dean of the College of Arts and Science and head of the communications department to review whether Click should remain in the classroom while the assault case plays out.
“We are confident she does not pose any danger to any student,” Foley said. He added, though, that as the case moves forward it could “become an awkward and odd situation” for the classroom.
In the end, Click’s behavior on Nov. 9 could affect whether she gains tenure at the University of Missouri, said Ben Trachtenberg, an associate law professor and chairman of the MU Faculty Council. He said it’s possible the tenure review teams would consider whether Click’s behavior is off kilter from what is expected of tenured faculty at MU.
“But I would like to think that any decisions would be fair and based on facts,” Trachtenberg said. “We don’t know what the facts are yet.”