The University of Missouri Board of Curators announced on Thursday its decision to terminate the employment of Melissa Click, the professor who has been steeped in controversy since she confronted student journalists during on-campus protests last fall.
University of Missouri Board of Curators Chair Pam Henrickson said in her statement that “The board believes that Dr. Click’s conduct was not compatible with university policies and did not meet expectations for a university faculty member.”
Many faculty members, including the executive committee of the MU faculty council on University Policy issues, had voiced their support of Click since the Board suspended her in late January.
On Thursday, just an hour after Click’s termination had been announced, MU interim Chancellor Hank Foley took questions from faculty and staff at the previously scheduled Faculty Council meeting.
Ben Trachtenberg, the chair of the MU faculty council started off the meeting by saying “Speaking for myself only I wish to state that the board has made a terrible decision.”
He added that he believed the decision to fire Click undermined the authority of interim system President Mike Middleton and MU interim Chancellor Hank Foley, and that the process used by the board of curators should be of “grave concern” to every employee on the system’s four campuses.
“The implication of that is that the entire tenured faculty could be fired tomorrow at the whim of the board and that is no way to govern a university,” Trachtenberg said.
After his initial comments, Trachtenberg introduced interim Chancellor Foley and opened the floor to questions and comments in regard to Click’s termination.
The question and answer session lasted for nearly 45 minutes. Foley fielded questions in regard to the implications of the Board being able to fire employees, how the tenure process had been turned into a method of discipline and he heard statements about continued concerns about race issues on campus.
The first question had to do with how much influence political pressure had on the Board’s decision. Foley replied that his understanding “is that the board undertook the investigation…they read the report, they read her [Click’s] responses to the report and they made their decision on that basis.”
Other members of the faculty council, like Professor Nicole Monnier of German & Russian Studies, seemed unconvinced that politics was not part of the decision-making process.
“It’s not that times on our campus are extraordinary. It’s times in our state are extraordinary and I think everybody in this room, except those in administration, can say this has everything to do with the political circumstances of our state,” Monnier said. “And to pretend that extraordinary times means protests on campus or disturbance or some sort of chaos that doesn’t allow us to follow due process - is a terrible, terrible egregious thing to say. I would also say that in extraordinary times is precisely the time you want to preserve processes - due process.”
Others lamented the lack of transparency coming from University and System administrations.
“I just want to say how disappointed and despondent and hurtful this is. One of the things that I think hurts the most is that you conflated and confused tenure for misconduct. In other words, if you thought there was a process you were following to adjudicate misconduct it should never be the tenure process. It’s not set up to do that. I think it’s unfair. I think it was a horrible mistake.”
Angela Speck, the director of astronomy and executive member of the faculty council, said that she believed Click’s decision to stand up for students was “commendable.”
“That Melissa Click acted the way she did in protection of students is not something she should be vilified for. I agree that using an F-word is possibly not most advised, but who gets to make decisions as to which words are good and which words are bad,” Speck said. “I want to know what it that I can and cannot say. I want to know what it is that I can and cannot do.”
Foley replied that the thought the decision to fire Click had more to do with her behavior and the fact that she inserted “herself into a situation that didn’t appear to need her” rather than her language choices.
In response to several questions Foley mentioned that faculty members should be “mindful” of what they are saying and doing.
“I’m not telling you to change your viewpoints or even how to express your viewpoints, but to be mindful of how you express your viewpoints,” Foley said.
One faculty member at the meeting brought up a quotation from Foley’s State of the university address and questioned how things had changed in such a short period of time.
“It says ‘When we rush into action and ignore valuable input and due process, that's when we make mistakes.”
MU staff member Traci Wilson-Kleekamp said she saw Click’s termination as “proxy racism.”
“I’m concerned that we're getting distracted from naming it and dealing with it [racism],” Wilson-Kleekamp said. “This nonsense of talking around race is got to stop. This is proxy racism. It is bull*** and we need to start talking about the fact that we didn’t do right by our students.”
Once Wilson-Kleekamp had concluded her statement, a black man in the back of the room stood and asked about how the decision to fire Click could affect the ability of academics to participate in activism.
“I’m thinking about last year when the events happened in Ferguson… When Bob McCulloch came to campus we potentially insulted him -would that have been inappropriate action? When I talk about law enforcement and their history of abuse in respect to African Americans - is that being inappropriate?”
He added that he found it troubling that a faculty member would be labeled a “villain” for protecting someone else’s child.
“I’m a black parent. I’ve got an 8 and a 3 year old and I would guarantee you that every black parent whose child is at that homecoming parade and on the quad appreciated a faculty member standing up and protecting their child. And that’s not the reframing that we have come to get. And so the problem here is that we have cast someone in a role as villain, when in fact a number of folks would view this person as heroine.”
One of the questions that rounded out the nearly 45 minutes of questions and comments was simply “If I want a board member fired, how do I go about that? Because they seem to know how to fire us.”
To which Foley replied that he didn’t know and he guessed individuals should “call the governor since he appoints them [curators].”
No faculty members spoke in support of the Board’s decision during the meeting.