On the grand scale of issues facing Missouri, the actions of a lone university professor ought to rank low on the list.
Would that it be so.
Republicans in the state General Assembly, especially those with elevated political ambitions, are fixated on University of Missouri assistant professor Melissa Click. Their disproportionate outrage could squelch an expected funding boost for the four-campus university system next year, perhaps causing students to pay higher tuition.
Click, a communications professor, has now appeared in two videos shrilly defending black student protesters. She is profane, nasty and arguably an embarrassment to her university. But she is hardly the threat to free speech and campus safety that critics are contending.
As a university professor, Click is entitled to due process. In fact, the inclination of politicians to target academics for their views and actions is exactly why universities need sound procedures to handle complaints against faculty and staff members.
Mizzou has those. They are spelled out in the university’s Collected Rules and Regulations, and include investigations, hearings and reviews.
But the process doesn’t move quickly enough for the University of Missouri System’s Board of Curators. Its members suspended Click on Jan. 27 without giving her a chance to defend herself.
In accusing Click of denying freedom of speech to others, curators and lawmakers have effectively silenced her right to academic speech.
Click’s critics have accused her of violating the First Amendment when she attempted to drive journalists away from black student protesters during an emotional scene on the Mizzou campus Nov. 9. The students had requested privacy.
Click was in the wrong that day. Journalists had every right to record events taking place on public property. Her behavior, which included grabbing a student photographer’s camera and calling for “some muscle” to remove the journalist, was deplorable.
But was her conduct severe enough to justify ending an academic career? The point of due process is to consider that question in an unemotional context.
Another video surfaced over the weekend, from Mizzou’s homecoming parade in Columbia on Oct. 10. Here again Click is allied with black student protesters. She shouts a profanity at a police officer trying to move students off the streets.
Many will find Click’s conduct offensive in the new video as well. But essentially she was standing up for the rights of herself and the students to exercise their free speech.
That fact will not appease lawmakers calling for Click’s firing, including state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a candidate for attorney general, and Sen. Eric Schmitt, who is running for treasurer.
But their main gripe with Click isn’t really about free speech. It’s about her taking up the cause of black students who demanded a voice on campus and ended up toppling the university system’s administration.
Politicians can’t get away with punishing the students, so they direct their wrath at the students’ foulmouthed defender.
People who truly value free speech should not be so eager to silence an academic voice. Let Melissa Click have her due process.
Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.