Click’s firing sparks discussions on faculty job security, free speech

After the UM System Board of Curators’ decision to fire the professor, faculty members have questioned their own ability to stand up for students.
Faculty Council Chairman Ben Trachtenberg speaks to faculty at the Faculty Council meeting on Feb. 25 in Memorial Union, hours after assistant professor Melissa Click was fired by the UM System Board of Curators.

A professor’s firing rarely makes national news.

But since November, Melissa Click’s name has become a narrative of its own, culminating with her firing Feb. 25.

Her story is well-known. Following UM System President Tim Wolfe’s resignation Nov. 9, the former assistant communication professor was caught on camera calling for “muscle” to remove student journalist Mark Schierbecker from Concerned Student 1950’s campsite. The video has since received close to 3 million views, drawing support and ire from various groups around the nation. Two debates were sparked that day: First Amendment rights and what constitutes acceptable behavior for a faculty member.

Since then, Click has been sent hate mail, targeted by Missouri lawmakers, called a heroine, suspended and, on Feb. 25, fired. Click’s firing elicited varying responses from those following her story, and the debate about how faculty should behave is ongoing.

The firing

UM System Board of Curators Chairwoman Pam Henrickson, interim UM System President Mike Middleton and interim MU Chancellor Hank Foley held a conference call with the press Feb. 25 to announce Click’s firing. The board voted 4–2 to fire her following an investigation.

Click can appeal her termination, Henrickson said during the conference call, and she added that the board had gone to “significant lengths” to ensure fairness for Click during the investigation and decision process.

Click has until March 4 to write to the board explaining why she does not think she should be fired. If no appeal is made, then the board’s decision is final.

Click was suspended on Jan. 27 after a second video came to light showing her shouting profanity at a police officer while standing between student demonstrators and police at the October Homecoming parade.

The same day the board suspended Click, it also authorized an investigation of her conduct since November, which Click responded to Feb. 19. The curators reviewed the report and response before voting.

“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,” Henrickson said. “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.”

Faculty and student response

Many faculty see the board’s decision as overstepping its bounds and lacking due process. While the curators can fire whomever they choose, they rarely fire professors.

During a Faculty Council meeting less than two hours after Click’s firing, Foley answered questions from faculty members in front of a crowded audience.

Faculty Council Chairman Ben Trachtenberg said at the meeting that Click was fired without due process.

“Regardless of one’s position or opinion on professor Click’s behavior fitness for duty, she was entitled by the rules — rules that the Board of Curators approved — to a fair process,” Trachtenberg said. “That she did not receive.”

Citing the UM System Collected Rules and Regulations, Trachtenberg said the bigger effect of Click’s firing showed that, legally, any faculty member could be fired if the board so chose.

“The implication of that is that the entire tenured faculty could be fired tomorrow,” Trachtenberg said. “And that is no way to govern a university.”

Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, who works for Mizzou Athletics’ Total Person Program, said during the meeting she believed Click was fired for standing up for black students.

“This is damaging to black people,” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “This nonsense of talking around race has got to stop. This is proxy racism. And we need to start talking about the fact that we need to do right by our students; that we’re going to take out a professor — a white woman — who said, ‘I’m going to defend this space for black students who haven’t been heard’ … that is unacceptable.”

Many students took to social media to voice their opinion on Click’s firing.

“We attend a university where caring for and protecting the students results in you being fired,” the Legion of Black Collegians tweeted Thursday.

Other students retweeted LBC’s tweet and emphasized that Click hadn’t just protected students, but black students.

Schierbecker said he was pleased with Click’s firing.

“I am happy with the outcome of the investigation,” he said in a statement. “I am disappointed by the lack of response from some of the faculty who chose not to act on this for over two months. I am embarrassed that the Board of Curators had to act because the faculty would not.”

The American Association of University Professors published a letter to Foley on Feb. 26 calling for Click to be reinstated. In the letter, AAUP’s associate secretary Hans-Joerg Tiede wrote that Click’s firing was “fundamentally at odds with basic standards of academic due process.”

Administrative response

At a press conference Jan. 25 addressing Click’s job status following a third-degree assault charge, Foley assured MU that Click would be given due process and that “hasty” decisions would not be made. He also said Click would not be fired before the tenure process was completed.

Two days later, Click was suspended by the Board of Curators.

Since Click’s suspension, guest faculty have been teaching her classes and will continue to for the rest of the semester, communication department Chairman Mitchell McKinney said.

Three weeks later, on Feb. 15, Foley issued a statement in light of the footage showing Click yelling an expletive at a Columbia police officer. In the statement, Foley denounced her behavior, calling it “appalling.”

During the press conference announcing Click’s termination, Foley said he was in full agreement with the board’s decision.

“Her actions in October and November are those that directly violate the core values of our university,” Foley said. “I can assure you — as Board Chairwoman Henrickson noted — that there has been fairness in this process and investigation.”

Middleton agreed with Henrickson and Foley.

“Dr. Click’s behavior was inappropriate and unacceptable,” Middleton said.

Later, at the Faculty Council meeting, Foley was criticized for changing his statement over the course of the month. Foley reiterated that he agreed with the board and that “they did the right thing.”

Foley also said the investigation was not based on political pressure from legislators.

“The board undertook an investigation as a response to the charges that were brought against her by the local prosecutor (and the board) made the decision from that basis,” Foley said. “The board did not make the decision on speech … but her overall behavior.”

Investigative report

Bryan Cave law firm spent over two weeks investigating Click, which included interviewing Click twice and more than 20 other people, such as Schierbecker and Concerned Student 1950 members.

The 24-page report details the days leading up to the Nov. 9 incident with Schierbecker and what has happened in the three months since.

Click refuted some of the report's findings in a letter to the board. She said some of the claims people interviewed made were inaccurate and that some findings included in the report were irrelevant or unnecessary.

“I believe you need a fuller picture of the environment in which I found myself,” Click wrote in the letter. “While some would judge me by a short portion of videotape, I do not think that this is a fair way to evaluate these events. Those videotaped moments (for which I have formally and publicly apologized) deserve to be understood in a wider frame of reference, among all of the momentous events of the fall semester.”

Edited by Taylor Blatchford |

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