In the fall, protests over race and bias incidents at the University of Missouri made national news, as a student went on hunger strike, the football team refused to play, and the university president and system chancellor resigned.
In the days that followed, another scene went viral: An assistant professor in the communication department was videotaped pushing a student journalist away from the protesters as he tried to report the story, and demanding “muscle” to get him out of there.
Many faculty members later emphasized the principle of academic freedom and defended Melissa Click, who apologized and resigned her courtesy appointment in the journalism department. But more than 100 lawmakers demanded that the Board of Curators insist on her termination, saying she had smothered free speech and worsened the tensions on campus. Click did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.
David Steelman, an alumnus, former legislative leader, lawyer and member of the Board of Curators, writes his opinion here. He has tried to remain open to other possible options, as well, he said, but has publicly called for her termination:
By David L. Steelman
Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
The University of Missouri has long recognized Dr. King’s truth through what it refers to as its four values—respect, responsibility, discovery, and excellence. Unfortunately, unless the university is willing to live those values they are mere words.
During the demonstrations following the resignation of the university president, more than one university employee trampled the rights of students and journalists by selectively barring some from public areas of the campus. In addition, more than one employee, which we know of, physically interfered with student journalists attempting to accurately capture an important moment in the history of the university.
One of those employees, Melissa Click, a professor with a courtesy appointment to the school of journalism, not only attempted to intimidate a student, but when he would not yield to her demands, she called for “muscle” to physically remove him from a place he had every right to be.
Most of the world recognized Professor Click’s actions as a clear and dangerous abuse of authority.
The governor delivered a forceful statement of the public’s justifiable anger, and an overwhelming number of legislators have called for her termination.
Finally, admissions to the University of Missouri are down, and while not all reasons are known, it seems reasonable to assume that there are parents and prospective students who have watched Professor Click’s actions, imagined themselves or their children exposed to her abuse, and applied elsewhere.
To date the university’s sole action has been to place what I consider a meaningless admonishment in her file.
In my opinion, this tepid action does not reflect a particularly strong commitment to our values; moreover the inaction indicates an institutional narcissism that undermines our values and responsibilities to the broader society.
That narcissism, the desire to look only inward, and to worry more about the perks and privileges of faculty was unfortunately made even more clear when over 100 faculty members signed a letter in support not only of Professor Click’s employment, but of her actions.
Their exact words were that her actions were, “at most a regrettable mistake . . .”
That is absurd understatement.
Professor Click’s actions were at a minimum in reckless disregard of student rights and safety; and they were clearly disrespectful.
When The University of Missouri allows its employees to ignore our stated values and when the university’s faculty, deans, administration, and board refuse, for whatever reason, to take responsibility, our students learn that those nicely packaged and presented words like respect and responsibility are less important than protecting members of the club.
Consider what has occurred to the student who recorded Professor Click’s actions. He was also the target of her threats. His video has been one of the most important contributions to the unfortunate events on our campus. However, he has now received a letter from the editor of the Maneater; Mizzou’s highly regarded independent newspaper, indicating he should no longer associate himself with the paper. At the time of the incident the chairperson of the faculty committee that advised the Maneater was Professor Melissa Click.
Unfortunately, Melissa Click has become the face of the University of Missouri for many.
This underscores the importance of the university taking action that is consistent with our values.
Inaction will confirm the growing public perception that we are hypocrites.
Many of our greatest institutions are failing because the leaders of those institutions forgot they exist to serve a higher purpose than mere self interest.
The university should stand for character, respect, and responsibility.
That means rejecting the narrow self interests of the faculty who signed a letter merely to avoid accountability and responsibility for those whose acts bring shame to the University of Missouri.