Melissa Click, a professor who gained national notoriety during the protests at the University of Missouri, has been fired.
The protests at the flagship state university over race and other bias issues had paralyzed the campus and forced the resignation of the system president and chancellor. When a student journalist said he had a First Amendment right to be there and take photos, Click said, “I can’t hear you!” and started chanting, according to a transcript released by the university system, “Hey hey! Ho ho! Reporters have got to go!”
Click apologized, and many professors defended her and the principle of academic freedom, but the earlier image of her became a symbol for others of attempts to muzzle freedom of speech and of a public university system in chaos.
The board of curators voted Wednesday night to terminate Click, an assistant professor in the communications department.
The vote was 4 to 2, with curators David Steelman, Donald Cupps, Phil Snowden and Maurice Graham voting in favor of termination.
Pam Henrickson, chair of the board, said in a written statement Thursday that the board had reviewed the results of an investigation into Click’s conduct which included a review of documents, video, and interviews with more than 20 witnesses. Click was interviewed twice, both times with lawyers, and wrote a response to the investigation Feb. 19.
The investigation was launched Jan. 27, when the board suspended Click.
“The board went to significant lengths to ensure fairness and due process for Dr. Click,” Henrickson wrote.
“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 wrote.
“The circumstances surrounding Dr. Click’s behavior, both at a protest in October when she tried to interfere with police officers who were carrying out their duties, and at a rally in November, when she interfered with members of the media and students who were exercising their rights in a public space and called for intimidation against one of our students, we believe demands serious action.
“The board respects Dr. Click’s right to express her views and does not base this decision on her support for students engaged in protest or their views.
“However, Dr. Click was not entitled to interfere with the rights of others, to confront members of law enforcement or to encourage potential physical intimidation against a student.”
Click has the right to appeal the curators’ decision. She did not immediately responded to a request for information Thursday. In a letter to the board earlier this month, she defended her actions at a protest at the Homecoming parade, and in the aftermath of the university system president’s resignation, describing an angry response to the protest on social media, “including threats to shoot MU’s black students. I firmly believe that the report’s failure to characterize the environment of the Carnahan Quadrangle as a challenging and volatile environment excludes critical details for understanding the actions that took place on that day. A fuller account can help the report’s audience to understand my fears and motivations.”
Outrage over Click had become a real liability for the university system. Earlier this week, Missouri state Rep. Tom Flanigan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, announced that the committee supported a cut of more than $8 million in state aid to the system in next year’s budget.
That included a more than $400,000 cut, an amount equivalent to the salaried positions of Click, a chair in her department, and the dean of arts and science.
“The decision to further reduce appropriations for the system was not made lightly and recent events have proved to Missourians that existing performance measures are not the only indicators of a university’s performance,” he wrote in a statement.
The committee “does not make the reductions only about Dr. Melissa Click and her actions,” Flanigan wrote, describing concerns about red tape and other issues including “the inability to terminate employees who participate in conduct unbecoming the University of Missouri and our state.”
Click also faced criticism, once she was under scrutiny, for her scholarship focusing on topics in popular culture such as Lady Gaga and “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
One lawmaker was delighted that she had been fired. “That’s great news, it should’ve happened months ago,” said Missouri Rep. Caleb Jones.
Andrew Hoberek, an English professor at Mizzou, was upset.
“This was an egregious violation of due process, clearly taken under political pressure,” he said in an email in response to a question about Click’s firing. “The Chancellor, in a Faculty Council meeting that just took place, attempted to assure faculty that it was an event that would not happen again, but offered no concrete basis for saying so, or guidelines on what does or does not constitute fireable behavior.
“In my opinion, taking this action has a chilling effect on faculty behavior at every level, and only opens up the university to further political demands,” he added.
Steelman, a curator, wrote in The Post last month, “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.”
The interim chancellor, Hank Foley, said in a statement, “The process the Board of Curators used to reach a determination about Dr. Click’s employment at the university is not typical—but these have been extraordinary times in our university’s history, and I am in complete agreement with the board that the termination of Dr. Click is in the best interest of our university.
“Her actions in October and November are those that directly violate the core values of our university. I can assure you—as Board Chairwoman Henrickson noted—that there has been fairness in this process and investigation.
“Finally, I personally would like to reiterate my commitment to ensuring a university community where we ALL feel valued and heard.”
The university system released material collected, including Click apparently urging reporters to cover the protest earlier, a statement signed by many faculty members expressing strong support for her and for her First Amendment right to protest after the controversy erupted, police reports, a written apology from Click in response to a letter from the provost, and an interview in which she says she saw student protesters in November and was moved to lock arms with them, and that when she sees that video, she feels embarrassed, “and very sorry for my behavior in that moment.”
She told an interviewer from KBIA that the protesters had been talking to reporters all day, and wanted time to think and prepare for a press conference. She said she still believes in that, but in retrospect would have handled it in a more peaceful way. She also noted that the student who videotaped their encounter was not a journalism student and not on assignment that day, and said her goal was to protect the protesters who were “under threat” and their right to peaceful assembly.
She told KBIA she had become a symbol. “I think it’s easier to to express anger at a woman who got flustered and made a mistake than to really engage with the deep racial issues raised by the students.”
The board, in its letter to Click on Thursday, acknowledged her letter defending her actions and describing the situation as challenging and volatile, but wrote that they have reason to believe she committed an assault when she pushed a student away from the protesters. Regardless of whether it was a crime, they wrote, her conduct was “wrongful, unjustified, and not consistent with the expectations for a University faculty member.”