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MU professor apologizes for bullying student journalist

MU professor apologizes for bullying student journalist

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COLUMBIA, MO. • Melissa Click shut herself in her university office on Tuesday afternoon, and sobbing could be heard through the door.

A day earlier, the assistant communications professor at the University of Missouri had helped lead a multitude of activists forming a circle encompassing hundreds of yards to block reporters from an encampment on Mizzou’s Carnahan Quadrangle, following the resignation of University of Missouri System President Timothy M. Wolfe.

A video that went viral Monday evening showed Click calling out for “muscle” to help remove a student journalist from the area. The video sparked a national wave of criticism against Click and other activists.

At 5 p.m. Tuesday, Click emerged from her office and released a written statement apologizing for her actions. She said she had personally apologized to the journalists involved and expressed regret that she had shifted attention from the “students’ campaign for justice.”

“From this experience I have learned about humanity and humility,” Click said.

By then, activists who had shouted “Hey, hey, ho, ho, reporters have got to go” on Monday also had changed their tune. They distributed leaflets urging protesters to respect journalists’ First Amendment rights and to welcome them.

Still, the focus remained on Click, whose fiery demeanor in the video, seemingly in disregard to free speech, had created a sideshow in a story about campus racism and the power of activism.

An online petition calling for her firing was circulating. People had posted her phone number and email address on online forums. Someone had created a Facebook page titled “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Melissa Click has got to go.” Police said she reported receiving threatening and harassing telephone calls.

The Internet hate machine was revving its engine, and university leaders had taken notice.

The Monday video showed activists linking arms and pushing against photographer Tim Tai. A Mizzou journalism student from St. Louis County, Tai was working as a freelance journalist for ESPN. He can be heard telling protesters he was trying to do his job and that the same First Amendment that protected their right to speak out also applied to him.

The video, taken by Mark Schierbecker, a history and German student from Rock Hill and a free speech activist, also depicted a confrontation between himself and Melissa Click.

“Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” she called out on the video. “I need some muscle over here.”

David Kurpius, dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, praised Tai and emphasized that Click is a professor in the communications department, which is part of the College of Arts and Sciences — not the journalism school.

Click had a courtesy appointment with the journalism school, but late Tuesday Kurpius sent a Twitter tweet saying she had resigned the position.

“We can’t pretend what we saw on the video is everything that happened,” Kurpius said. “It was a short video and to think that we have the full context is to have blinders on.”

Kurpius said Tuesday night that Click had resigned the J-school courtesy appointment.

Mitchell S. McKinney, chairman of the Department of Communication, released a statement applauding student journalists who worked in a very trying atmosphere.

“Intimidation is never an acceptable form of communications,” he said.

He did not comment on Click’s actions specifically.

Click wasn’t the only faculty member who helped thwart journalists’ access. Richard J. “Chip” Callahan, chairman of the Religious Studies Department, was standing behind students forming the blockade on the video. The video shows the students moving toward Tai. When he complained, Callahan said: “Don’t talk to me. It’s not my problem.”

According to public records, Click and Callahan share an address.

Janna Basler, director of Greek life and leadership on campus, also is seen in the video confronting Tai. When he asks her name, she replies: “I am Concerned Student 1950,” the name of the student group at the center of the protests. The name refers to the first year that black students were admitted to the university.

An individual in the Greek life office said Basler was not in the office Tuesday. When she answered the door at her house in a subdivision on the outskirts of Columbia, Basler said only, “I’m sorry, I just can’t.”

The university’s three Greek student councils released a statement supporting Basler, saying they do not believe her actions Monday “were reflective of her intentions to support students.”

Later Tuesday night, Basler posted an apology on the Greek life group’s Facebook page. It read in part: “I regret how I handled the situation, and I am offering a public apology to the journalist involved.”

The students who camped out on the quad Monday had made signs that said “No Media” and “Safe Space.” In recent years, the concept of safe spaces has evolved on college campuses to describe areas where all manner of speech that might be traumatic for some people is prohibited.

In some cases, they have been criticized for stifling debate, frustrating free expression and preventing students from being intellectually challenged.

Joe Cohn, the legislative and policy director at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said historically journalists have had a positive impact on public protests, providing a crucial check by preventing police or other government agents from abusing participants.

“It’s been that sunlight that has really helped movements succeed without being subject to tactics designed to shut them down,” Cohn said. “It’s been distressing to see activists turn on the media.”

Reuben Faloughi, a graduate student and member of Concerned Student 1950, said after Monday’s experiences, the group better understands the role journalists play.

“When people are exercising those rights, it’s not always comfortable,” he said. “We look at what happened as a learning experience for everyone involved. Since then, we’ve passed out pointers about dealing with the media. We’re learning as we go.”

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Alex Stuckey is a statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Stephen Deere is a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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