Magazine article Academe

Academic Freedom and Tenure: University of Missouri (Columbia) 1

Magazine article Academe

Academic Freedom and Tenure: University of Missouri (Columbia) 1

Article excerpt

This report concerns the action taken on February 25, 2016, by the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri to dismiss Dr. Melissa A. Click, an assistant professor of communication, from the faculty of the University of Missouri on charges of misconduct without having afforded her the faculty hearing called for under both the university's regulations and the recommended standards of the American Association of University Professors. This action followed more than three months of controversy surrounding Professor Click's confrontations with two University of Missouri students on November 9, 2015. On that date Professor Click attempted to exclude both students from a public space on campus, a portion of the Carnahan Quadrangle, where African American student protesters and supporters had established a tent camp. The two young men were trying to photograph and film the tent camp over the objections of the protesters. Professor Click confronted both students in an attempt to make them leave the area and jostled one student's camera during the course of the confrontation. These encounters were captured on video by one of them, posted to YouTube, and attracted significant attention on social media and in the press. Concerns were later raised about a previous verbal confrontation on October 10, 2015, between Professor Click and city police officers at a homecoming parade, captured in a police video made public in mid-February 2016.

The purpose of this report is not to defend Professor Click's November 9 actions, for which she has apologized publicly and repeatedly, nor to assert that those actions should have been protected under principles of academic freedom. As discussed below, opinions vary greatly about whether Professor Click's alleged misconduct warranted dismissal and even about whether her actions constituted misconduct at all. This report is primarily concerned with two issues: whether Professor Click was afforded the protections of academic due process called for under AAUP-recommended standards and whether the action taken against her was the result of overreach by the university's governing board and of inappropriate political interference, by members of the Missouri legislature, into the university's disciplinary process and into the university's affairs more generally.

I. The Institution

The University of Missouri, the first public university to be established west of the Mississippi River, was founded in Columbia in 1839. Commonly referred to as "Mizzou" or MU, it is the flagship institution of the University of Missouri system, which also has campuses in Kansas City, Rolla, and Saint Louis. Approximately 35,000 of the 78,000 students in the UM system are enrolled at the Columbia campus. MU has about 2,300 full-time and 900 part-time faculty members organized into seven colleges and eleven schools, as well as an honors college, graduate school, and extension division. It has been regionally accredited since 1913, currently by the Higher Learning Commission. Its athletics teams participate in Division I of the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The institution first began to admit African American students in 1950, and, in 2014, 8.2 percent of the institution's student body was African American.

MU is governed by the University of Missouri system board of curators, which consists of nine members appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state senate. The board is chaired by Ms. Pamela Q. Henrickson, an attorney from Jefferson City. Three seats on the board are currently vacant, with resignations of two African American members of the board occurring during the events recounted in this report. In February, the Republican state senate president pro tem, Senator Ron Richard, declared that the senate would not confirm any nominations to the board submitted by the Democratic governor for the duration of his term.

The system's chief executive officer is Interim President Michael A. …

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