University of Missouri faculty, students try to block media from covering protests
Melissa Click, a University of Missouri assistant communications professor who called for “some muscle” to remove a student reporter from a protest on the Columbia campus, has been fired, the university announced Thursday.
The university system’s board of curators suspended Click in late January and hired a law firm to investigate her conduct. The board voted 4-2 Wednesday evening in a closed session to dismiss her, said Pam Henrickson, the board’s chairwoman.
“The board went to significant lengths to ensure fairness and due process for Dr. Click,” Henrickson said in a teleconference Thursday afternoon with University of Missouri System interim president Mike Middleton and interim MU chancellor Hank Foley.
“The board believes that Dr. Click’s conduct was not compatible with university policies and did not meet expectations for a university faculty member.”
Henrickson voted against the firing, along with curator John Phillips.
Curators Donald Cupps, Maurice Graham, Phil Snowden and David Steelman voted in favor. Three seats on the nine-member board are vacant.
Henrickson declined to say why she voted against the firing but said she now supports the governing board’s vote. Middleton and Foley also said they supported the board decision.
Click can appeal to the board. But, Henrickson said, “we have not heard anything from Professor Click” about an appeal.
The investigation was spurred by videos of Click blocking a student journalist on the MU quadrangle during protests in November and cursing at a Columbia police officer working at the October homecoming parade. A Columbia city prosecutor charged Click with assault over the incident on the quad.
Click could not be reached for comment Thursday. But the board’s investigation of Click’s actions included comments from her that were released Thursday.
“While some would judge me by a short portion of video tape,” Click said, “I do not think that this is a fair way to evaluate these events.”
She added that “those video-taped moments (for which I have formally and publicly apologized) deserve to be understood in a wider frame of reference, among all of the momentous events of the fall semester.”
Click called the parade scene “tense” and “tricky.” She said African-American students who blocked then-president Tim Wolfe’s car were being shouted down by the crowd, which wanted them to move. She said some African-American students were sobbing.
“I had no training or experience with public events such as this but felt that someone should step in to support and protect these MU students,” Click said.
A statement from Henrickson said the firing was not based on Click’s support for the predominantly African-American student protesters. But she noted that Click had interfered with the rights of “members of the media” and other students at the protest site and had cursed a police officer trying to move protesters at the homecoming parade.
The Bryan Cave law firm conducted the investigation. Henrickson said it included a review of relevant documents, materials and video recordings. She said more than 20 witnesses were interviewed. Click was interviewed twice during the investigation and both times was represented by counsel.
Mark Schierbecker, the student journalist whose camera Click is accused of pushing during the November protests, said in a statement Thursday that he is happy with the outcome but “disappointed” no faculty member had filed a misconduct complaint against Click.
Another university employee, Janna Basler, shown in Schierbecker’s video blocking a student journalist, was put on administrative leave from her job with the MU Office of Greek Life, but she has since returned to work.
“I want this experience to represent something positive for the students of Mizzou,” said Schierbecker, who had tried to document the race-related protests at MU last November. “I have put together a dedicated group of students who want issues around the First Amendment at Mizzou to continue to occupy a place in the national conversation.”
Other students’ sentiments about the firing were mixed, said Connor Lewis, a fourth-year doctoral candidate and co-chairman of the Coalition of Graduate Workers.
“I know a lot of graduate students who didn’t agree with her behavior and a lot who felt she was just standing up for students,” said Lewis. But, he said, “many of us are teaching or want to become faculty, and it is troubling for us to see someone denied due process under the collective rules and regulations simply because they became a political controversy.”
Jasmine Serrano, a junior journalism major from Grain Valley, said she didn’t feel Click had “responded appropriately in her capacity as an instructor here on campus, especially as one who studies media extensively. I felt like maybe she should have known better.”
But Serrano also didn’t believe due process was served to Click. “I don’t feel that whole thing went through the proper channels,” she said.
Some faculty members on the Columbia campus were not happy with the curator’s vote.
“The board has made a terrible decision,” said Ben Trachtenberg, chairman of the MU Faculty Council. “Regardless of one’s opinion of Professor Click’s behavior or fitness for duty, she was entitled by our rules — rules that the board of curators has approved — to a fair process. She didn’t get it. Instead, she got one that the board made up as it went along.”
A statement from the full Faculty Council pointed out that under the university’s Collected Rules and Regulations, faculty members “accused of misconduct are entitled to a fair hearing before they may be dismissed.”
Foley said in the teleconference that “the process the curators used to terminate Dr. Click’s employment is not typical, but these are extraordinary times in our university’s history.”
Middleton said the board “did an exhaustive investigation. Click’s behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable, and I fully support the board’s decision.”
According to university rules, a complaint of misconduct would have needed to have been filed against Click by a member of the university community — a student, faculty administrator or curator — to launch a university investigation. That never happened.
Henrickson said curators were waiting for a faculty member to make a complaint, but once the Columbia city prosecutor charged Click with assault, the board felt compelled to begin an investigation.
Columbia prosecutor Steve Richey agreed to let Click off with community service as long as she stayed out of trouble for a year.
Missouri lawmakers have threatened to reduce the university’s funding as much as $8 million, including eliminating Click’s salary next year and also targeting the salary of the chairman in the communications department, where Click worked.
But Henrickson said the board’s decision to investigate Click’s actions was not influenced by pressure from lawmakers who have been calling for Click to be fired since November.
Rep. Caleb Jones, a Columbia Republican, said Click should have been fired “months ago.”
But House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat, said, “Click’s continued employment at Mizzou was always a decision best left to the University of Missouri board of curators, not members of the General Assembly.”
He added, “Now that the board has acted, House Democrats are hopeful the misguided attempts to punish the university and its students will lose traction and the legislative focus can shift to helping Mizzou re-establish its reputation as one of our nation’s finest public universities.”
The university has been in the national spotlight since November when Concerned Student 1950 — a predominantly black student group — launched a protest for racial diversity and inclusion on the Columbia campus that led to a student hunger strike. Also, the football team, in support of protesters, refused to play until the system president stepped down.
President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin later resigned.
Foley on Thursday said that “Concerned Student 1950 raised a lot of really important questions for us last fall.” He said he would like to continue to consider what needs to be done “to make our campus much more inclusive as we go forward. We are working hard to make this campus much more inclusive for all Missourians regardless of color, creed or background.”
The Star’s Jason Hancock, Tod Palmer and Glenn Rice contributed to this report.
Oct. 10, 2015: Melissa Click stands with students blocking homecoming parade and gets into confrontation with Columbia Police Department officers.
Nov. 9: Click tries to stop media access to protesters in a public space on Carnahan Quadrangle, pushes an MU student journalist and calls for “muscle.”
Jan. 25, 2016: Columbia city prosecutor charges Click with assault for pushing student journalist’s camera.
Jan. 27: University of Missouri board of curators suspends Click and orders investigation to determine whether additional discipline is appropriate.
Jan. 28: Bryan Cave law firm begins the investigation.
Feb. 12: Bryan Cave completes investigation.
Feb. 19: Click responds to investigative report.
Feb. 20: Curators receive report and Click’s response.
Feb. 24: Board votes to fire Click.