Melissa Click, the University of Missouri professor who called for “muscle” to remove a reporter, has been charged with the crime of assault. The charge is based, I think, on the allegation of Mark Schierbecker, a Missouri student and videographer, that Click, not content to wait for muscle, grabbed his camera and pushed him while he was filming.
The specific charge against Click is third-degree assault. This is a class C misdemeanor that carries a possible 15-day jail sentence, according to the Kansas City Star.
Whatever the merits of the assault charge, Click is guilty in my view of budding fascism. No such crime exists, of course, but the offense strikes me as probably sufficient to cost Click her job. It won’t do for a university professor to call for muscle to prevent the filming of a public protest.
Many in the Missouri state legislature agree. Last month a group of 100 Republican state legislators publicly called for the university to fire Click. They were joined by David Steelman, a member of the university system’s board of curators.
More than 100 faculty members responded by writing a letter in support of Click. The letter is noteworthy in several respects.
First, it makes no real argument against the dismissal of Click. The closest it comes is this:
We believe that [Click’s] actions on November 9 constitute at most a regrettable mistake, one that came, moreover, at the end of several weeks during which Click served alongside other faculty and staff as an ally to students who were protesting what they saw as their exclusion from and isolation at the University.
But “regrettable mistakes” often lead to dismissal from employment. And they probably should when the mistake involves thuggish (and in the view of prosecutors, criminal) conduct by a professor directed at a student trying to record what is happening in public on campus.
Nor is it any excuse that Click sympathized with the protesters. Sympathy is fine; assault and calls for “muscle” aren’t.
Second, the letter focuses mainly on trying to convert Click into a victim. It states that she “has been wronged by the media” and subjected to “ad hominem attacks.” The authors don’t provide any details, much less evidence, to support these claims, which are irrelevant in any case. The issue of Click’s continued employment should turn on her conduct, not that of her media critics.
Third, the letter is signed almost exclusively by professors in the “humanities.” There is one signatory from the Department of Biomedical Sciences, one from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, and one from the School of Law. The rest are from departments where, at many colleges and universities, leftism tends to run rampant.
This doesn’t mean the letter lacks merit (though I think it is unsound for the reasons discussed above). But it would be more impressive if it had garnered support from a broader cross-section of the faculty.
Two of the signatories are from the School of Journalism. It’s a sign of the times, I suppose, that any journalism professor would express solidarity with a professor who favors the forcible removal of a videographer from a protest.
The issue of Click’s employment at the University of Missouri is likely to be resolved not through outright dismissal for misconduct, but rather through the tenure process. Click apparently is up for tenure at the end of the year. Professors who are denied tenure at the University are terminated within a year of the denial.
The Kansas City Star quotes Ben Trachtenberg, an associate law professor and chairman of the Faculty Council, as saying that it’s possible the tenure review teams will consider whether Click’s behavior is off kilter from what is expected of tenured faculty. I don’t see how they could refuse to consider this, but given the contemporary university scene, who knows?
Meanwhile, interim Chancellor Hank Foley (the last Chancellor resigned in the wake of student protests) has asked the University provost along with the dean of the College of Arts and Science and head of the communications department to review whether Click should remain in the classroom while the assault case plays out. He expressed confidence that Click does not pose a danger to any student, but added that as the case moves forward it could “become an awkward and odd situation” for the classroom.
And for the University, I would have thought.