Legit sanction for abuse of authority, or an infringement on academic freedom? Missouri state legislators want Melissa Click canned for her actions in a protest at the University of Missouri, in which she threatened a student journalist by calling for “some muscle” when he insisted on covering the demonstration. The letter sent to Mizzou has the signatures of a majority in both chambers of the state’s assembly:
The University of Missouri professor who called for “some muscle” to toss a reporter out of a demonstration on public property could be the one who gets bounced, after state lawmakers on Monday demanded that she be fired.
Communications Professor Melissa Click made national news in November, when she tried to have a student reporter on assignment for ESPN thrown off the quad during a racially charged protest.
“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” Click yelled out after reporter Tim Tai refused to leave in an incident caught on video. “I need some muscle over here.” …
Now, more than 100 House Republicans and 18 Senate members from the state Legislature have signed a letter to the school’s board of curators demanding Click’s “immediate firing.”
“The fact that, as a professor teaching the communication department and the school of journalism, she displayed such a complete disregard for the First Amendment rights of reporters should be enough to question her competency and aptitude for her job,” reads the letter, penned by Rep. Caleb Jones and Sen. Kurt Schaefer.
Golly, if they kick her out, how can Mizzou undergrads properly study Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight? The threat to shut down speech at Mizzou has the Kansas City Star’s Barbara Shelly unhappy. Not Click’s threats to shut down speech, but the state legislators’ implied threat to Mizzou funding in their letter to the university:
Click was unprofessional and wrong. She called for “some muscle” to help her confront one journalist, while ignoring the fact that the university quad, where the protests were ongoing, is a public space and therefore open to the media and others.
Maybe she should be fired. Or maybe the greater body of her work argues in favor of her remaining on the faculty. I really don’t know. Neither do most of the legislators who signed the letter.
But the purpose of the letter isn’t just to get Click fired. It is to tell the University of Missouri system that the state legislature is prepared to meddle in personnel matters and other internal affairs that shouldn’t be the jurisdiction of politicians.
And the not-so-implicit threat is always this: We fund you, so do what we say.
Well, Click was more than just “unprofessional and wrong”; she threatened a student with violence for accessing public space and tried to intimidate him from reporting on a legitimate news story. She didn’t act just to “confront” the journalist, which Click had already done — she went to find someone else who would push Tim Tai out of the area, or worse. That is, after all, what “some muscle” means. If a professor under any other circumstances threatened a student with violence in order to intimidate them into silence, would Shelly be so quick to shrug it off? Perhaps, say, if a school administrator threatened to find a student to push an Occupy protester around in an attempt to intimidate him/her?
Shelly misses the point on her other argument, too. Public universities are — and should be — accountable to the people’s representatives for how they spend their money. If one wants to work for a university without any public funds, the state of Missouri must have a number of private colleges with professorships, although the demand for Fifty Shades of Grey majors might be on the low side. Perhaps Click might have better luck in California on that score. The nonsensical and unserious nature of her topics should have legislators asking questions about how Mizzou spends its money, although the demand issued in the letter clearly is meant to address the threat rather than the silly, pop-culture, lightweight academics of Click’s oeuvre.
Don’t expect Mizzou to get the hint, though. They seem to have trouble understanding the scope of the First Amendment in areas other than public access, or at least the law professor now serving as “interim vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity, and equity” does. Chuck Henson clearly needs a primer on First Amendment law, emphasis mine (via Newsalert and The College Fix):
The backlash against the changes at Mizzou is likely to continue, led by self-styled defenders of the First Amendment (which protects free speech). Yet the First Amendment does not give people a free pass to go round saying hateful things, points out Mr Henson. To help students and faculty realise this, Mizzou has developed a new guide to “inclusive terminology” which ensures a healthy level of respect for all minority groups. It includes terms such as “adultism” (prejudice against the young), “minoritised” (when under-represented groups are made to feel inferior) and intersextionality (obscure). Some will see this stuff as movement in the right direction. But it is also likely to increase the ire of those who watched the protests and thought they saw a group of privileged college students complaining about how terrible their lot is.
Yes, actually, that’s precisely what the First Amendment does. It protects unpopular speech, because popular speech doesn’t need much protection. There are limits to this, of course, but those have to do with specific incitement to violence, copyright infringement, and libel/slander laws. “Hateful” speech might be unpleasant, but the state has no authority to silence it.
I suspect Mizzou’s going to feel a lot of adultism in the coming months, most of it directed at the supposed adults in charge. And they will deserve every bit of it.