Rest assured, the Missouri legislature is not overly concerned with press freedom.
They know we can hold our own. It’s a two-way street, a robust relationship of friction and cooperation.
So political pressure to oust a University of Missouri professor for her childish and already apologized-for rant is not primarily about the First Amendment, despite some of the points made in letters signed by more than 100 Republican House members and 18 senators.
Released this week, but dated before the Christmas break, the legislators call for the “immediate firing” of MU assistant professor Melissa Click by the Missouri Board of Curators, saying — among other things — she “displayed a complete disregard for the First Amendment rights of reporters.”
Yes, this is the fracas that refuses to simmer down. If it takes the right turn, that might not be bad.
Click did herself no favors back in November by screaming at reporters covering the Concerned Student 1950 movement on the Columbia campus, trying to keep journalists from a public space where protesting students gathered. The legislators called her out for unprofessionally “inciting the unrest on the Columbia campus.”
She certainly added to the embarrassment. But inciting, not so much.
The problems are there. Minority students are not well represented on campus, and many have legitimate concerns about how that influences their education. Click just upped the wattage by raising the question of how a professor of communications could be so clueless about press freedom. She would have been a better ally by guiding the students toward assessing their goals, their tactics, developing relationships with media and engaging with reporters covering a public protest.
But Click also irked because she inserted herself into a culture war. In the moment where she is caught on video, she illustrated for many the idea that college campuses are ultra-liberal bastions where out-of-touch professors indoctrinate, brainwash and coddle students.
So how about using the episode to discuss what is taught and how useful studies are in helping students obtain jobs, become engaged citizens and feel as if the tuition they paid was worth it?
For that outcome, legislators will have to back off using Click as a poster child for all that ails higher education.
A lot of professors are immersed in fields of study that seem frivolous and downright daffy on a cursory glance. Click is an easy target. She studies Lady Gaga and “Twilight” and “50 Shades of Grey.” Not exactly physics or accounting.
Still, she might hold access to skills that are marketing gold. The legislators nod to that possibility in the letter: “we recognize there may be some value in pop culture studies.”
Click was a co-author (along with two other MU professors) of “Bitten by Twilight: Youth Culture, Media and the Vampire Franchise.” Corporations spend oodles of time and dollars trying to figure out how to reach millennials, who now outnumber baby boomers. She apparently looked into the appeal of the vampire phenomenon and how it was marketed differently across genders.
If Click is astute at dissecting the nuances and habits of demographic groups, if she is able to train college students to do such work, those are marketable skills.
Two 2005 Kansas City Star articles quoted Click on views about Martha Stewart as the style icon was emerging from prison and needed to rebuild her business empire. Her observations were the type of insight that businesses pay hefty fees to obtain. Is that enough to hold a professorship? Maybe, maybe not.
College campuses have long pushed societal envelopes, causing people to chafe at the passions of students and how they voice their concerns. But college also must be a time for a stiffening of the vertebrae, readying for life.
How well our systems accomplish those goals needs constant assessing. That end won’t be reached by politicians picking off professors one by one.