Thursday, February 25, 2016

Mizzou Professor Who Pushed Reporter Away From Protesters is Fired
By Susan Svrluga
February 25 at 6:15 PM

Melissa Click, a professor who gained national notoriety during the protests at the University of Missouri, has been fired.

Click made headlines when a video of her pushing a reporter away from protesters went viral; she could be heard calling for “muscle” to toss out reporters trying to cover the news. The protests had paralyzed the university and forced the resignation of the system president and chancellor.

Click apologized, and many professors defended her and the principle of academic freedom, but the earlier image of her became a symbol for others of attempts to muzzle freedom of speech  and of a public university system in chaos.

The board of curators voted Wednesday night to terminate Click, an assistant professor in the communications department.

The vote was 4 to 2, with curators David Steelman, Donald Cupps, Phil Snowden and Maurice Graham voting in favor of termination.

Pam Henrickson, chair of the board, said in a written statement Thursday that the board had reviewed the results of an investigation into Click’s conduct which included a review of documents, video, and interviews with more than 20 witnesses. Click was interviewed twice, both times with lawyers, and wrote a response to the investigation  Feb. 19.

The investigation was launched Jan. 27, when the board suspended Click days after she was charged with assault in the incident.

“The board went to significant lengths to ensure fairness and due process for Dr. Click,” Henrickson wrote.

[Mizzou professor who pushed a reporter away from protesters is charged with assault]

After reviewing the report and discussing it, they voted in executive session to fire her.

“The board believes that Dr. Click’s conduct was not compatible with university policies and did not meet expectations for a university faculty member,” Henrickson wrote.

“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.

“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.

“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.”

[Mizzou should fire the professor who pushed a reporter away from protesters, curator says]

Outrage over Click had become a real liability for the university system. Earlier this week, Missouri state Rep. Tom Flanigan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, announced that the committee supported a cut of more than $8 million in state aid to the system in next year’s budget.

That included a more than $400,000 cut, an amount equivalent to the salaried positions of Click, a division chair in her department, and the dean of arts and science.

“The decision to further reduce appropriations for the system was not made lightly and recent events have proved to Missourians that existing performance measures are not the only indicators of a university’s performance,” he wrote in a statement.

The committee “does not make the reductions only about Dr. Melissa Click and her actions,” Flanigan wrote, describing concerns about red tape and other issues including “the inability to terminate employees who participate in conduct unbecoming the University of Missouri and our state.”

One lawmaker was delighted that she had been fired. “That’s great news, it should’ve happened months ago,” said Missouri Rep. Caleb Jones.

Andrew Hoberek, an English professor at Mizzou, was upset.

“This was an egregious violation of due process, clearly taken under political pressure,” he said in an email in response to a question about Click’s firing. “The Chancellor, in a Faculty Council meeting that just took place, attempted to assure faculty that it was an event that would not happen again, but offered no concrete basis for saying so, or guidelines on what does or does not constitute fireable behavior.

“In my opinion, taking this action has a chilling effect on faculty behavior at every level, and only opens up the university to further political demands,” he added.

Steelman, a curator, wrote in The Post last month, “Most of the world recognized Professor Click’s actions as a clear and dangerous abuse of authority.

“The governor delivered a forceful statement of the public’s justifiable anger, and an overwhelming number of legislators have called for her termination.

“Finally, admissions to the University of Missouri are down, and while not all reasons are known, it seems reasonable to assume that there are parents and prospective students who have watched Professor Click’s actions, imagined themselves or their children exposed to her abuse, and applied elsewhere.”

Click has the right to appeal the curators’ decision. She did not immediately responded to a request for information Thursday.

Susan Svrluga is a reporter for the Washington Post, covering higher education for the Grade Point blog.

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