After weeks of controversy that brought threats of financial retaliation from legislators and student protests at a Board of Curators meeting, the University of Missouri has fired assistant communication professor Melissa Click.
The 4-2 vote by the curators came after an investigation of her behavior during protests on the Mizzou campus as well as her actions during the homecoming parade last fall.
Pam Henrickson of Jefferson City, chair of the Board of Curators, said Thursday that the decision to terminate her employment came “after extensive discussion.” Henrickson and curator John Phillips of Kansas City were the two votes against her firing, but Henrickson said she accepts the decision. The board has three vacancies.
Click had been suspended by the curators last month. Henrickson said Click is free to appeal to the board to reverse her firing.
“The circumstances surrounding Dr. Click’s behavior,” Henrickson said in a prepared statement, “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.”
Hank Foley, interim chancellor of the Columbia campus, said Click’s dismissal is part of an effort to create an atmosphere where everyone can feel valued and heard.
“The process the Board of Curators used to reach a determination about Dr. Click’s employment at the university is not typical,” Foley said, “but these have been extraordinary times in our university’s history, and I am in complete agreement with the board that the termination of Dr. Click is in the best interest of our university.
“Her actions in October and November are those that directly violate the core values of our university. I can assure you – as Board Chairwoman Henrickson noted – that there has been fairness in this process and investigation.”
Hours after Click's firing was announced, the Faculty Council at Mizzou denounced the move, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune. Its resolution read:
“By flouting the Collected Rules and Regulations of the University, the Board of Curators has caused needless injury to the University of Missouri."
During student protests on the day in November that both university President Tim Wolfe and Mizzou Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin stepped down, Click was captured on video calling for “muscle” to prevent reporters from interviewing students. Another video, showing her confronting police during the homecoming parade, later surfaced.
In recent weeks, Click has attempted to tell her side of the story. But during that time, video from her behavior at the homecoming parade became public, making her case more difficult.
Click originally was charged with third-degree assault for her actions on the campus quadrangle, but prosecutors deferred prosecution, allowing her to perform community service instead. Henrickson said Click received no severance pay as a result of the curators' decision.
Both Henrickson and Foley said they did not think pressure from legislators had anything to do with the vote to fire Click, and they did not want to speculate on what might happen now in terms of support from Jefferson City.
"Of course we were aware of the General Assembly's opinion," Henrickson said, "but the board didn't take that into account in making its decision. we strictly used the investigative report and looked at Dr. Click's behavior....
"The legislature will do what they will do."
Foley said that he did not think that the action against Click will make it more difficult for the university to attract faculty members. He said that teachers need to serve as models, as “teachers, scholars and members of a learning community,” and her behavior did not fill that role.
“None of this had to do with scholarship,” Foley added, “ but it did have something to do with teaching. I think that's where we need to be careful. And we also have to recognize that social media is everywhere, and our actions need to be considered given that social media is everywhere.”
Asked why the board took action to fire Click, Henrickson said that curators were waiting to see if any faculty members filed charges against her behavior, but no one did.
And when she was asked what evidence she found to be most favorable to Click during deliberations, Henrickson responded:
"I can't say that I think there was much on Dr. Click's behalf that was compelling."
Political reaction to Click’s firing began coming in quickly.
Catherine Hanaway, one of the Republican candidates for governor, said in a statement:
“I commend the University of Missouri Board of Curators for its decision to terminate Professor Click, a move I called for over a month ago. Click's attempt to intimidate a student journalist with a threat of violence was outrageous, and her brand of radicalism should have no place at any of our public universities."
One of her opponents, John Brunner, tweeted:
House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, said in a statement that Click’s “continued employment at Mizzou was always a decision best left to the University of Missouri Board of Curators, not members of the General Assembly. Now that the board has acted, House Democrats are hopeful the misguided attempts to punish the university and its students will lose traction, and the legislative focus can shift to helping Mizzou re-establish its reputation as one of our nation’s finest public universities.”
State Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, said:
“I was pleased the university set aside the politics surrounding this situation and sided with commonsense and the school’s administrative rules, which Professor Click clearly violated. The state’s university can’t condone such actions from their faculty. The termination of Assistant Professor Click is a solid step in resolving what has been an ugly situation and a stain on MU and the state.”
And state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, tweeted:
The University of Missouri’s Board of Curators holds the license for St. Louis Public Radio.
Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger