Suspended professor Melissa Click speaks out
Click: “I leaned on the people around me who love me and tried very hard to remember good things about myself and that I was trying to do the right thing.”
Feb. 16, 2016
Melissa Click, an assistant communications professor, was standing with family near the intersection of Ninth Street and University Avenue when members of Concerned Student 1950 stopped the Homecoming parade Oct. 10.
One by one, the 11 students grabbed the megaphone and recited parts of MU’s racial past, from the first time black students were admitted to when racial slurs were hurled at Missouri Students Association President Payton Head last September.
The crowd at the parade began chanting “M-I-Z, Z-O-U” to drown out the protesters and form their own line between Concerned Student 1950 and then-UM System President Tim Wolfe’s car. At that point, Click joined the demonstrators.
“I felt that they were students who needed support and wanted to be there,” she said in an interview with The Maneater last week. “I felt like standing with them would be something small that I could do to show them that they weren’t alone. Then others joined me, which was really moving.”
Click is suspended by the UM System Board of Curators pending further investigation for her conduct, which included calling for “muscle” to remove a student journalist during campus protests on Nov. 9, the day Wolfe resigned.
She said what happened that day was a mistake but that she shouldn’t lose her job over it. She’s worried about the curators’ investigation, and she would like to return to students and her classroom.
Another video of Click from the Homecoming parade was posted last Saturday by the Columbia Missourian. Taken by a body camera on a Columbia police officer, the video shows Click yelling an expletive at the officers.
Click joined Concerned Student 1950 eight minutes into their demonstration, and the police arrived shortly after.
“The crowd had already been angry and wanted them to move on,” Click said. “The police came, and I’m a white person, and I teach about race, but I’ve never really experienced that kind of hostility directed at people.”
She thought she could protect the students by standing between them and the police.
“I thought, well, if I stand between the police, who were putting their hands on the students, maybe they won’t push me. And they did,” she said.
The parade was a life-altering moment for her. Afterward, she said she couldn’t go back and watch the parade with her family. Instead, she walked across Francis Quadrangle to Switzler Hall, where she cried.
“Despite what students think of us, faculty members care deeply about their students, even students they don’t know,” Click said.
Click said she has stayed silent since November because she didn’t think the video was the biggest story from that week. In addition to Wolfe’s resignation, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin also stepped down.
She’s talking now, though, a few weeks after cutting a deal with the city prosecutor who charged her with third-degree assault.
“Before (the Nov. 9) video, I feel like I had a decent reputation on campus as being a professor people loved to have classes with,” Click said. “I’ve always tried to go above and beyond to support my students, helping them after they leave MU and keeping in touch with them.”
Click has been teaching at MU for 12 years and has a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. She specializes in studying pop culture and the audiences who consume it.
While on suspension, she’s been finding volunteer faculty members from various departments who can teach her class.
Faculty members organized a walkout on Nov. 9 as a show of support for Concerned Student 1950, who was camping out on Carnahan Quad, and for graduate student Jonathan Butler, who went on a hunger strike until Wolfe resigned. Click participated in that walkout.
The ensuing interaction with student journalists has been well-documented in the video and in the media. Click knew that something was up that night. She was getting notifications from her normally quiet Twitter account. But she was at a function for her children, so she couldn’t investigate it.
Initially, she couldn’t believe what was happening.
“There was a lot of sorrow and regret and fear,” she said. “A lot of disappointment with myself, knowing that my behavior in that video isn’t a good representation of me and certainly didn’t represent who I had been that day and who I have been in my 12 years at MU. I was disappointed in myself that the good I had done that day and the good intentions I had brought with me to campus that day weren’t represented in that moment.”
Click had two classes the next day, at 9:30 a.m. and at 12:30 p.m. She taught the first class but canceled the other because of safety concerns. The death threats had started, and she said she didn’t feel safe walking across campus to the Arts and Science Building.
In her 9:30 a.m. class, she said she addressed the issue head-on, giving her students the option to leave if they didn’t want to be there. No one left.
In January, more than 100 lawmakers called on MU to fire Click. Rep. Chuck Bayse, R-Columbia, said at a Feb. 5 town hall that her firing would help soothe anger in Jefferson City.
“She clearly violated that student reporter’s right to be there,” Basye said. “A professor at the university is a role model to young people, and I would say the same thing if it was a police officer doing that. She was across the line, and she shouldn’t be in that position.”
Recently, members of a House budget committee denied the UM System a budget increase, citing the university’s handling of Click as one of the reasons.
“I recognize my mistake, but I was trying to help students that were articulating concerns about the university community,” Click said. “I certainly wasn’t the only faculty member or staff person present. People make mistakes, and I don’t think you should have to lose everything when you make a mistake.”
Click personally apologized to student journalist Mark Schierbecker and issued a statement Nov. 10. She said no one personally asked her to resign.
She said nothing in her life could have prepared her for the past three months.
“I leaned on the people around me who love me and tried very hard to remember good things about myself and that I was trying to do the right thing,” Click said. “I was trying to stand up for students. Everybody makes mistakes. You can only hope your mistakes aren’t put on YouTube for everybody else to judge. I tried to do the right thing by apologizing personally to the two students involved.”
At the end of January, she faced the third-degree assault charge. Interim Chancellor Hank Foley said in a press conference that Click wouldn’t lose her job while her application for tenure was pending.
Click said she was reassured by Foley’s statement. Two days later, Foley called her to tell about the suspension.
“That was a week of highs and lows,” she said. “I worry that I can’t be treated fairly anymore because we are not in the context of university policy and procedures anymore.”
The Executive Committee of Faculty Council said in a statement that the curators undermined campus leadership and violated university policy. The American Association of University Professors said the suspension violated due process.
After the release of the second video, Foley publicly reprimanded Click in a statement.
“Her conduct and behavior are appalling, and I am not only disappointed, I am angry, that a member of our faculty acted this way,” Foley said.
Curator David Steelman has been vocal about his issues with Click. In an op-ed to the Washington Post, he wrote that “Professor Click’s actions were at a minimum in reckless disregard of student rights and safety; and they were clearly disrespectful.”
Click said she hasn’t spoken to the curators and doesn’t know when to expect a decision. In the meantime, she asks her critics to not judge her by one moment.
“I acknowledge that I made a mistake and I am sorry for it,” she said. “I also think you can’t dwell on your mistakes forever, and it will just crush your soul.”
Edited by Taylor Blatchford | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Maneater answered questions from the curators’ lawyers regarding their investigation. Click served on the Student Publications Board, which has no editorial control over The Maneater, and Schierbecker once worked for the paper as a photographer. Click resigned from her publications board position Nov. 10.