In Defense of Melissa Click

BY JOHN K. WILSON

I have not previously spoken out in defense of Melissa Click, the University of Missouri professor who was loudly denounced for supporting a student protest by keeping out student journalists. Like many others, I strongly opposed her actions, and despite many threats against her and calls for her dismissal, she was not actually punished for what she did. Until this week.

On Jan. 25, interim Chancellor Hank Foley said the university would “allow due process to play out.” That position lasted exactly two days, when the Board of Curators revoked due process and decided to suspend Click on Jan. 27: “MU Professor Melissa Click is suspended pending further investigation” which will “determine whether additional discipline is appropriate.”

There was no hearing or investigation, and apparently no opportunity for Click to defend herself. The Board of Curators is not a disciplinary body, and this suspension is a violation of the University of Missouri policies, and a violation of the First Amendment protections of academic freedom, because Click is being targeted disproportionately for her ideology because her actions in no way justify such a harsh penalty.

On a procedural level, what happened to Click is absolutely indefensible. Click never received due process. No matter what you think of Click, the use of “suspension” to punish people before an investigation (which is what the Board then calls for) and hearing can be conducted is appalling. Suspension is a punishment. It shouldn’t be used to precede a case unless someone poses an ongoing immediate threat on campus (as Click obviously doesn’t). For professors, a suspension effectively silences their speech in the classroom—all of it. The use of suspension as a penalty before any investigation takes place is fundamentally unjust.

On a substantive level, does Click’s assault merit her suspension or dismissal? No. First of all, this is an “assault” in name only. Most people imagine that an “assault” is a vicious physical attack causing potential harm to another. What Click did, at worst, was momentarily grab a camera. She caused no damage, and no violence. It’s roughly the level of violence you might experience at a crowded rock concert where people get jostled from time to time. The fact that a prosecutor went after Click on a patently political charge of assault, and that she made a deal over this minor charge (which is not a conviction), is irrelevant to a campus disciplinary proceeding. I routinely see accused criminals on a perp walk going through a line of photographers being jostled and pushed, and no one is charged with assault for touching a camera.

Click is also accused of calling upon others to commit violence because she said, “Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.” The notion that Click was calling upon people to beat up a student journalist is ridiculous. There is no evidence to support any such interpretation, when Click was simply trying to block the journalist’s access to the protest, which is obviously what she wanted the “muscle” to do. Punishing someone for a purely speculative crime like this would be ludicrous.

No, the real harm caused by Click was not violence or the threat of violence, it was the suppression of freedom of the press in seeking to keep media out of the area. That was the only crime here.

So, was Click wrong to try to keep media out of the protest area? Yes, she was definitely wrong, although some might point out there is a double standard here: the administration routinely keeps the media out of their spaces where they gather to plan strategies dealing with protesters, and a journalist who tried to enter their conference rooms would be quickly arrested. So why shouldn’t protesters have the same “safe spaces” to privately discuss their plans? Well, that’s part of the nature of a protest occupying a public space, that you have to give up some of your privacy. And the protesters at Mizzou deserve a lot of credit for immediately recognizing this fact, reversing their policy, and welcoming the media in. And Click herself has acknowledged she was wrong, publicly apologizing for her actions.

But being wrong doesn’t necessarily justify a punishment, especially one as harsh as suspension or firing. What Click did seems less severe than stealing newspapers or seeking to punish a journalist. Basically, I would rate it as similar to an administration that fails to respond appropriately to an FOIA request and denies a journalist access to information they should have, as Click sought to deny a journalist access to part of the protest. If a public university employee had wrongly failed to fulfill an FOIA request, and then immediately apologized, what should be the punishment? I can’t see how such a minor offense would deserve more than public criticism, or perhaps a formal reprimand.

While there are some principled defenders of free speech and freedom of the press who call for taking a hard line against Click, that does not really describe the 117 Republican legislators who demanded her firing, the trustees who ordered her suspension, or the prosecutor who pressed charges against her. Instead, what is happening to Click is retaliation for her political views. These people dislike the protesters, but since the protest is protected speech, they instead target a high-profile sympathizer who made a mistake in her zealous support of the protesters.

Let’s imagine that a campus police officer did the exact same actions that Click did, trying to prevent a student from recording the Board of Curators as they walked on campus. Does anyone imagine for a moment that these Curators would impose a suspension of the campus cop? Or that prosecutors would file charges? Or that Republican legislators would demand the officer’s dismissal?

The punishment Click has already received is far in excess of what her crimes deserve. Every year, there are hundreds of infringements of free speech on campuses far worse than Click’s, and the people responsible almost never apologize, and are never punished by the university for their actions. A suspension is completely out of proportion to her errors.

24 thoughts on “In Defense of Melissa Click

  1. Thank you. The sentiments of this post are right on the money. Like you, I was uncomfortable with Click’s action but, also like you, I don’t see it rising to the point where it deserves this level of retaliation. Even the initial public lashing out at her went way too far. All reaction should have stopped, certainly, with her apology. It was overblown before; now it is simply political pillorying. At this point, she deserves all of the defense we can give her.

  2. So if I walk into a bank holding a gun with no bullets, and scream that I’m going to shoot everyone, is that a crime, or would it only be speculative because no one would have been hurt anyway?

    Regardless of her “intentions” for calling for muscle, it is a crime to incite violence. The end.

    • Of course that’s a crime. And of course Click did nothing like that. It’s obvious that Click was calling for “muscle” to help her create a physical blockade of the protest area. The idea that she was inciting people to beat up a photographer is just a crazy interpretation of the situation. What Click actually did deserves criticism. But criticize her for what she did, not these wild and baseless accusations.

      • You can google the relevant law that she was charged with. Of the roughly six definitions her actions were definate of four, arguably the remaining others. She was therefore appropriately charged and you should stop pretending to be a lawyert when you are not.

      • Wow, what a load of nonsense. It seems Click’s defenders are every bit as dishonest, and censorious, as she is. Click wasn’t asking students to “help her create a physical blockade of the protest area”. She wasn’t merely yelling for nearby “muscle” to act as some sort of human privacy fence by blocking the reporters’ line of sight. She didn’t want to simply block access to a PUBLIC AREA on the campus; she agitated for students who were already there to be actively expelled. But why take my word for it when ample evidence of what Click actually said and did is so readily accessible? I will now quote what Click said to the crowd of protesters gathered around her: “Hey who wants to help me GET THIS REPORTER OUT OF HERE? I need some muscle over here”(emphasis mine).

        Yeah, so much for the ludicrous claim that Click was only calling for students to act as some sort of barrier between the protestors and a couple of camera-wielding student journalists. She was actively encouraging protesters to use physical force against their fellow students. The only “crazy interpretation” is coming from those denying the obvious import of Click’s words. The use of “muscle” against those journalist would have constituted assault, a criminal offense. She was instigating mob violence, period. That anyone can actually believe she doesn’t deserve to be fired for that is mindboggling. Contrary to what you seem to be implying, ANY degree of violence fomented by Click is unacceptable and should have resulted in her immediate termination.

        It is stunning that anyone can assert that it is Click who is the aggrieved party in this situation. The only ones who had their Constitutional rights violated were the student journalists. Click is the one who violated those rights. So Click called for the use of mob violence AND she violated the First Amendment rights, at least, of the journalists attempting to cover a newsworthy event occurring in a public place. Thank goodness a majority of the curators had the sense to do what should have been done months ago. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

      • Really, any degree of “violence” is wrong? Suppose that she had been on the opposite side of the dispute, and called for “muscle” to defend the free press rights of students (or to prevent a speaker from being silenced). Would you demand the firing of any professor who called for muscle in those cases?

      • She want to intimidate with muscle. If someone does that to your college age child, you would think it is ok or no big deal?

  3. While you’re at it, why don’t you write a defense of Timothy Wolfe, the UM System president who was hounded out of his job because he was somehow made responsible for anonymous, disparate racist incidents at a campus so seething in white privilege that it elected an African-American study body president plus had an African-American chancellor 5 years prior to Wolfe? BTW, Click’s appeal for more muscle, put in the context of a huge throng of students that included bulky, protesting football players against a lone cameraman has a malevolent tone of physical threat. At least Mark Schierbecker felt that way, and watching the spectacular video, one can understand his fear at the time plus his subsequent outrage.

    • Really, it has the “malevolent tone” of physical threat because there are “bulky, protesting football players” around? Are big burly black men inherently threatening? As for Wolfe, it’s important to note that he quit on his own. He wasn’t disciplined by the Board of Curators. When Click was likewise hounded (by more severe threats including violence) into resigning her appointment in the journalism school, I didn’t call that a violation of academic freedom because she chose to do it. However, there is a difference between a president and a professor, and presidents get paid a lot more money because they are held to a different standard. Part of a president’s job is to try to stop racial discrimination against his students and faculty, and it can be argued that Wolfe was failing to do his job. But Click’s job is to teach and do research, and there’s no indication that she was doing her job badly. To suspend her for making an error in judgment at an extramural activity, with none of the required due process, is a threat to academic freedom.

      • I never once said the football players were African American. Why do you perpetuate a racist stereotype of the black male as bulk athlete?

      • It’s not racist to talk about the racial dynamics of a Black Lives Matter protest. Blacks are half of Mizzou’s football team, and they were the ones holding the sympathy strike with the protest, so I’m a little skeptical that your reference to the football players invoked a rainbow coalition rather than the black players who organized the movement. I’m not saying you’re racist. But I do find it odd that even though Click was only charged with a crime for jostling the camera, and not for her “muscle” comments, most of the justifications for punishing her are based upon wild interpretations of the “muscle” comment as if it was an incitement to violence. Let’s not be naive: we have to acknowledge the fact that white people tend to see the threat of violence much more vividly around black people, especially a group of angry black men at a protest.

      • It is ridiculous to say wolf resigned on his own. He did so under duress. It is astounding that someone with a doctorate degree cannot see it.

  4. While her behaviour was reprehensible and unprofessional, I do not see this rising to the level of a “fitness” issue. As one who knows a great deal about suspension, I agree that certainly post-event, there is no evidence of a threat of harm to her or others. That is the sole rationale for a suspension that is rarely honoured and rarely claimed by the A.A.U.P. I think Professor Click merits a good talking to, a reminder that trash-talking about “muscle” is outrageous and unprofessional, that discouraging student inquiry is egregious, and that such behaviour should not be repeated. I would denounce any sanctions beyond that.

    • Do you want your child “educated” by someone like that? On what basis do you base your conclusion that her behavior is not her true self?

  5. What is happening to her is proportional and warranted. This is the correct response to PC bullies: push back twice as hard,and deny them the institutional protection that anyone else would lack for the same thing. Maybe she doesn’t need to be fired, but she needs a taste of “the process is the punishment” that the universities dish out to disfavored students nowadays.

  6. A journalism professor taking actions to a journalism student denying their first amendment rights of the press in attempting to report on actions happening in a public area is counter to her job responsibilities. If you take actions counter to your job responsibilities you can be fired for cause. No defense necessary. The cause has been well documented and would hold up.

  7. This is a rather disingenuous take on the events in question. Ms Click did not merely try to block the view of the protester from a student journalist

    She said
    “Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?”

    When you call for “muscle” to remove someone you are calling for that person to be attacked. Colloquially speaking “muscle” is what you bring in to break legs. When a professor not only commits assault herself but calls for mob violence in an already overheated situation she has put the lives of the students and community at risk.

    In the end the university did the right thing and fired her. It took far too long but in the end justice prevailed.

  8. Melissa Click asks for forgiveness and talks about how unreasonable everyone is being as they judge her actions outside of context. So she wants clarity and levelheadedness plus forgiveness in relation to her out-of-line behavior. She never seems to have considered that Timothy Wolfe was unfairly made a scapegoat for racist incidents he didn’t commit as she pranced around in Carnahan Quadrangle, threatening a skinny, unthreatening reporter. She seems to have heartily endorsed the Wolfe-as-scapegoat fantasy without any levelheadedness or forgiveness for Wolfe of the kind she pleads for herself. Hypocrisy of a pure kind.

    • There’s a big difference between a president and a professor. And there’s a big difference between getting fired and resigning. But even if Melissa Click were a hypocrite, hypocrisy is not a punishable offense, and hypocrites have academic freedom, too.

      • Yeah, like the academic freedom she supplied by threatening a nerdy reporter who was exercising his First Amendment Rights.

      • I think it strains the bounds of intellectual honesty for you to point out the president “resigned”. Technically he resigned but we both know that logically he was fired.

  9. Click instigated mob violence and tried to have a student journalist, who was exercising his First Amendment rights, forcibly removed from a public space. If those actions don’t warrant termination, nothing does. The notion that firing her is unduly harsh is absolutely ridiculous.

Your comments are welcome. They must be relevant to the topic at hand and must not contain advertisements, degrade others, or violate laws or considerations of privacy. We encourage the use of your real name, but do not prohibit pseudonyms as long as you don't impersonate a real person.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s