Title IX complaints pending against Missouri employees blocking student photojournalists on video

Update, 11/13, 9:30 am: Tim Tai, the student photographer shown in the video, responded via email to an earlier request for comment. He said he’s thankful for the support of journalism professor Brian Brooks, who filed the Title IX complaints against the university employees angrily confronting Tai in the video. Tai said Missouri’s Title IX office called on Thursday to say they would send him more information on the investigation process soon. 

MISSOURI — Three days after the clash between student photojournalists and protesters at the University of Missouri, there is a Title IX complaint and a municipal simple assault complaint pending against communications professor Melissa Click. There is also a Title IX complaint filed against Janna Basler, the director of Greek life who is now on administrative leave.

The two women, along with many student protesters and a couple other university employees, were shown on video trying to block both Tim Tai, a student photographer on freelance assignment for ESPN, and Mark Schierbecker, the student photojournalist recording the video, from documenting the on-campus encampment of Concerned Student 1950.

The activist movement, which has been fighting to expose racism on Missouri’s campus, had initially barred the media from their campsite, which they called a safe space. But after national backlash, the students have removed the “no media” signs and welcomed the press.

Now, the attention has focused on the university employees who were shown on video yelling at the student photojournalists. Click, an assistant professor of mass media in the communications department, has borne the brunt of the national criticism for calling for some “muscle” to remove Schierbecker from the campsite. She has resigned her courtesy appointment with the journalism school and resigned as chair from the student publications committee. She has also issued an apology for her “language and strategies,” expressing regret that her actions have shifted attention away from the mission of Concerned Student 1950.

Basler, who was shown on video yelling at Tai to leave while walking toward him, eventually touching him, has also apologized for “allow[ing] my emotions to get the best of me while trying to protect some of our students.” She has been placed on administrative leave while the Missouri Department of Student Life conducts an investigation into her actions.

Click has not responded to multiple requests for comment. A student affairs spokeswoman said Basler is unavailable for an interview.

In an interview, Schierbecker said he decided to press charges against Click on Wednesday night. Click is seen on video grabbing at Schierbecker’s camera, shaking it.

Schierbecker also said Click needs to issue a more sincere apology. He spoke with her before she issued her public apology, which he thought was curt and insincere, and he said he asked her to appear on a radio program with him so that she could apologize publicly. She never responded, but the offer still stands, he said.

“I told her that if she’s sincere, I’ll accept [her apology], but based on her actions since then, even if I do accept her apology, she still needs to resign for her own sake,” he said. “That’s what I’m going after at the moment — her full resignation.”

Meanwhile, Brian Brooks, a professor emeritus of the Missouri School of Journalism, filed Title IX complaints against both Click and Basler on Tuesday. He said he hasn’t heard back from the Title IX office as of Thursday afternoon, although their website said he would receive a response in 24 hours, he said.

Missouri’s Title IX administrator Ellen Eardley did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.

Brooks said he is a mandatory reporter as an employee of the university. When he saw “a white female administrator harassing and pushing an Asian-American male student … to me, that should qualify as a problem. I reported it as such,” he said, adding that both sex-based and race-based harassment should qualify as Title IX violations and because Tai is Asian and male and both Basler and Click are white and female, it was enough for him “to conclude that it was an improper confrontation.”

Brooks said Click and Basler were “completely out of line” and should have acted as mediators to deflect the intense situation between the student photojournalists and the protesters. Their public apologies were not enough, he said.

“An apology is nice, but one of my students was harassed, and I’d like to see something more done about it,” he said. “When you’ve got a staff member or professor in positions of authority harassing a student, I think that’s pretty bad stuff.”

Brooks said he recruited Tai to Missouri and knows him well. “He obviously knew more about the First Amendment than either of the two staff members,” he said.

Tai didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday afternoon. (Update: Tai said he is thankful for Brooks’ support, although he isn’t sure if this is a Title IX issue. He said the Title IX office reached out to him Thursday to say more information on the investigation process would be coming soon.) 

“I’m hoping the University of Missouri does something,” Brooks said. “I frankly think that a communications professor who doesn’t know anything about the First Amendment has no business being on the faculty of the University of Missouri.”

Schierbecker said he is planning on talking about what has happened in a panel discussion at Skepticon this weekend in Springfield, Missouri. He said he invited members from Concerned Student 1950 to be on the panel with him, but has not yet heard if they will attend.

Contact SPLC staff writer Madeline Will at (202) 833-4614 or by email.

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