Melissa Click is appealing her firing by the University of Missouri in the wake of her actions during campus protests, saying the school “is using me as a scapegoat to distract from larger campus issues.”
In a statement issued Tuesday by a Texas public relations firm that has been representing her, Click expressed thanks to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for authorizing an investigation into her case that could lead to censure of the university.
The AAUP announced Monday that an investigating committee will visit Columbia on March 22-23 to meet with administrators, board members, faculty leaders and Click to get more information about her firing by the university’s Board of Curators last month. It will then work to determine whether the action violated its rules on academic freedom and tenure.
If the issue makes its way to the organization’s annual meeting, the university could be added to its censure list, which is designed to let the public and prospective faculty members know “that their rights may not be respected” at the University of Missouri, AAUP said in a statement.
In her reaction, Click said the AAUP investigation “underscores my belief that the Curators have overstepped their authority. While I have taken the Curators’ offer to appeal their decision to terminate me, I do not believe that the process they used to come to their decision was fair.”
Click’s firing was announced last month by Pamela Henrickson, chair of the Board of Curators. In a statement that was released along with documentation of the university’s investigation of her conduct, Henrickson said that in both a confrontation during the Mizzou homecoming parade in October and at a demonstration after the resignations of system President Tim Wolfe and Mizzou Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin in November, her conduct “was not compatible with university policies and did not meet expectations for a university faculty member.”
“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,” Henrickson added. “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 her statement Tuesday, Click rejected what she called the curators’ claim “that my case is ‘not typical.’”
Instead, she said, curators “bowed to conservative voices that seek to tarnish my stellar 12-year record at MU. Instead of disciplining me for conduct that does not ‘meet expectations’ for a University faculty member, the Curators are punishing me for standing with students who have drawn attention to the issue of over racism at the University of Missouri.”
Click said that while she has apologized for her actions at the homecoming parade and during the campus protests, “I will not apologize for my support of Black students who experience racism at the University of Missouri.”
She added that her firing “will not remedy the environment of injustice that persists at MU. Instead of seeking to silence Black students and their allies, MU must acknowledge the concerns of marginalized students on our campus, address the racial problems that shape the campus community, and ensure fair treatment of all students, staff and faculty.”
A university spokesman, who had earlier declined to say whether Click had filed an appeal of her firing by last Friday's deadline, did not respond immediately to a request for comment on Click's statement Tuesday. Nor did Click's representative respond to a request for an interview.
Rationale for dismissal
Along with the school’s official statements, the university also released last month Click’s response to an investigative report into her conduct, in which she said:
“While some would judge me by a short portion of videotape, I do not think that this is a fair way to evaluate these events. Those videotaped moments (for which I have formally and publicly apologized) deserve to be understood in a wider frame of reference, among all of the momentous events of the fall semester.”
Further, curators made public the seven-page letter sent to Click informing her she would be terminated and setting last Friday’s deadline for appealing that ruling to the Board of Curators. It noted the tense atmosphere in which the incidents occurred and her subsequent apologies, but said her conduct warranted her dismissal.
“It is not the place of a faculty member to invoke intimidation or violence against a student, as you did in this instance,” the letter said. “Allowing such behavior to go unaddressed undermines the University’s educational environment, its commitment to fostering an environment in which people can exercise their rights, and the public’s confidence in the University to carry out its mission.”
The university had suspended Click without pay in January. At one point, she faced a misdemeanor charge of assault, but prosecutors later agreed to defer prosecution in the case.
Last week, the AAUP wrote to Henrickson and to Hank Foley, interim chancellor of the Columbia campus, calling Click’s firing “a matter of basic concern to our Association under its longstanding responsibilities.”
In its statement Monday, the organization said that typically, instead of being “summarily dismissed” as Click was, faculty members with tenure “may be dismissed only following demonstration of cause in an adjudicative hearing before a faculty body.”
It asked the university to rescind Click’s firing so that an investigation into how her case was handled would no longer be necessary.
The controversy surrounding Click has become an issue in Jefferson City, where lawmakers have debated whether to cut the university's state funding.
While the AAUP was looking into the situation on Monday, the group Concerned Student 1950 staged more demonstrations on the Columbia campus. According to the Columbia Daily Tribune, they complained that a working group put together to look into race-related problems at Mizzou has been ineffective.
The demonstrations came as filmmaker Spike Lee was visiting the campus for a film to be released by ESPN in May.
The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.
Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger