More than 100 Missouri Republican lawmakers have sent a letter to top officials of the University of Missouri system calling for the firing of a professor and a staff member who called for “muscle” to threaten a student journalist covering a campus protest in November.
Assistant professor Melissa Click was captured on video attempting to intimidate student journalist Mark Schierbecker by asking for assistance to have him physically removed. Janna Basler, the university’s assistant director of Greek Life, also appears in the video, seeming to have physical contact with the student photographer as Click grabs at the student’s camera.
The GOP lawmakers – 18 state senators and 99 state House members – charged that Click “failed to meet the obligations she has to her supervisors, fellow professors, University students, and the taxpayers of Missouri” when she called for “muscle” against the student reporters.
“The fact that, as a professor teaching in the communication department and 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,” the lawmakers wrote. “It should be evident that these actions are inappropriate, illegal and unacceptable for a faculty member of the University of Missouri.”
USA Today reports, however, that supporters of Click released a letter Tuesday that was sent to university officials in December. The letter, signed by more than 100 university faculty members, acknowledged her “regrettable mistake” and asked for leniency.
“We believe that Click has been wronged in the media by those who have attacked her personally and have called for her dismissal,” the faculty members said. “We affirm our support of her as a colleague, a teacher, and a scholar, and we call upon the University to defend her First Amendment rights of protest and her freedom to act as a private citizen.”
Nevertheless, state Rep. Caleb Jones (R) said that he and fellow lawmakers decided to make their effort to call for Click’s firing public on Monday after receiving support from more than 100 members of the state legislature.
“It’s imperative that the university act swiftly to remove her from her position,” Jones said.
In the letter, the GOP lawmakers also raised questions about Click’s research projects which her university bio states “involve 50 Shades of Grey readers, the impact of social media in fans’ relationship with Lady Gaga, masculinity and male fans, messages about class and food in reality television programming, and messages about work in children’s television programs.”
“While we recognize there may be some value in pop culture studies, her behavior has the public questioning her ‘research’ and her unacceptable actions during the protests,” the lawmakers wrote.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D), however, said that while he agrees Click’s behavior was unacceptable, lawmakers should not attempt to “micromanage” the university.
“Anybody who saw that video… I can understand how completely unacceptable her behavior was. The fact that people are upset, I’m okay with that,” Nixon said.
Click resigned her courtesy appointment in the university’s journalism school, but remains an assistant professor of communication at the university.
In November, a group of student protesters called #ConcernedStudent1950, fueled by Black Lives Matter, forced university president Tim Wolfe to resign amid charges of failing to address racism on campus. School chancellor R. Bowen Loftin also resigned. The students put together a list of demands, one of which was for Wolfe to “acknowledge his white male privilege.” The protests spread rapidly to other college campuses across the country.
It was discovered, however, that Mizzou activist Jonathan Butler had falsified a key claim that was made against Wolfe – that he was hit by a car carrying the university president in the school’s homecoming parade. A video later revealed that Butler himself actually rushed toward the car.
Schierbecker – who shot the video of Click – ultimately filed charges against the professor with the university police department.
The news that state lawmakers would be scrutinizing the school’s funding – coupled with the university’s tarnished media image – led university officials to hire a lobbyist.