Melissa Click, professor who called for muscle to remove student journalist, has been fired

Updated, 2/25, 4:30 pm, with information from the Board of Curators’ investigation into the incident. Updated at 4:45 pm with student journalist Mark Schierbecker’s statement.

Melissa Click, the assistant professor of communication who drew national fury for calling for “some muscle” to remove a student photojournalist from a campus protest, has been fired.

The University of Missouri Board of Curators voted 4-2 Wednesday night to fire Click, who will have the right to appeal her termination, according to the Columbia Tribune. Click has been suspended with pay since last month, when city prosecutors charged her with a misdemeanor assault charge. Click reached a deal to avoid jail time by completing 20 hours of community service work.

“The board believes that Dr. Click’s conduct was not compatible with university policies and did not meet expectations for a university faculty member,” said Pam Henrickson, chair of the Board of Curators, in a statement. “The circumstances surrounding Dr. Click’s behavior, both at a protest in October when she tried to interfere with police officers who were carrying out their duties, and at a rally in November, when she interfered with members of the media and students who were exercising their rights in a public space and called for intimidation against one of our students, we believe demands serious action.”

In November, students and several university employees, including Click, rallied against racism on campus on the public quad — and sought to ban the media from recording their campsite, calling it a safe space. Two student photojournalists, Tim Tai and Mark Schierbecker, were told to leave the campsite, but both refused to leave, citing their First Amendment rights. Click yelled at Schierbecker, grabbing his video camera when he refused to leave and calling for “some muscle” to help her remove him from the campsite.

Schierbecker’s video of the incident immediately went viral. Click apologized and resigned her courtesy appointment with Missouri’s journalism school, along with her position as chair of the student publications committee. On Jan. 27, the Board of Curators authorized an investigation to determine if additional discipline for Click, who had been undergoing the tenure review process, was appropriate.

In the report of the investigation, Click said she thought Tai had “charged” the perimeter of the circle of protesters and she thought his actions was inappropriate. She said it was ethical, though not necessarily legal, to ask the reporters to step back. Tai told the investigators that he would never have pushed into the circle. In the video, Tai remains calm. 

Click also told the investigators that although Schierbecker introduced himself as media, she found his introduction “suspicious” and did not believe he was media. She said his small camera seemed unprofessional to her, and she was concerned he might have a gun. She said pushing his camera was a “knee-jerk” reaction to Schierbecker entering her space. 

Click also said her call for muscle was an attempt to get larger men to escort him away because she was concerned about handling the situation herself. 

Last week, a new video surfaced that showed Click protesting with students at a homecoming event last October. When police officers tried to move the protesters from the road, Click screamed at the officers to “back up” and “get your fucking hands off me” as they moved her onto the sidewalk.

“The board respects Dr. Click’s rights 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.”

In a statement, University of Missouri Interim Chancellor Hank Foley said he was in “complete agreement” that Click’s termination was in the best interest of the university.

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

Click has previously said that she is concerned that she will not receive fair treatment or due process during the investigation.

In a statement after the news Click’s termination broke, Schierbecker said he is happy with the outcome.

Schierbecker has used the momentum from the national anger over Click’s actions to push for several pieces of free speech legislation in Missouri — including a bill that would require students at public universities to take a course on the First Amendment and the Walter Cronkite New Voices Act, which would protect student journalists’ right to exercise freedom of the speech and of the press in school-sponsored media.

“I want this experience to represent something positive for the students of Mizzou,” he said in the statement. “I have put together a dedicated group of students who want issues around the First Amendment at Mizzou [to] continue to occupy a place in the national conversation. The actions of November have revealed the need for such a group. We expect to launch next week.”