To the Editor:
In recent articles covering the University of Missouri’s treatment of Professor Melissa Click, a common refrain has been that she has few public supporters. However, this should not be misunderstood to suggest she lacks support.
Over the past few months, more than 100 faculty members at institutions around the world have been privately discussing how we might best support and advocate for our colleague. Many of us know Professor Click personally, even more know her excellent research on popular media consumption, and all of us have been horrified at how she has been demonized by strangers, whether via anonymous social media or signed commentaries intent on judging her based on a few minutes of video.
Her supportive colleagues have been publicly silent because we had faith in the systems designed to review, evaluate, and (if necessary) discipline faculty. We heard reports that throughout the fall her colleagues at the University of Missouri were following the protocols dictated by the institution’s rules of shared governance and grievance procedures. We actively participated in those processes by sending letters of support to university administrators; we stayed publicly silent because as faculty members, we respect the rules of institutions to self-govern per their established policies, and did not want to create outside interference that might disrupt Professor Click’s ongoing tenure decision. We stayed publicly silent because we believe the important story at the University of Missouri is not Professor Click’s actions in those few minutes, for which she apologized within a day, but the successful organized student protests over concerns of serious racial injustices that resulted in the resignation of the central administration.
But we cannot stay publicly silent any longer.
Over the past month, others have overstepped their authority to punish Professor Click without following proper procedures. Members of the Missouri legislature petitioned the University to fire Professor Click, and are threatening to punish the state’s thousands of students by freezing higher-education budgets until they follow through with this witch hunt. The Board of Curators suspended Professor Click, despite lacking the authority to intervene with campus governance and employee discipline. The interim chancellor repeated this politicized party line by castigating her publicly and meeting with the curators to plan action without following his university’s established procedures. And now the Board of Curators have voted in a split decision to fire Professor Click, with the public assent of the chancellor, even though it clearly flouts all established legal policies for university governance and employee discipline.
These actions against Professor Click are not about a few minutes of her behavior caught on video. These actions are calculated to distract and redirect the conversation away from student concerns over campus racism, and to silence other faculty, staff, and students from lending their voices in support. These politicians, political appointees, and now university administrators are using Professor Click to scapegoat an “unruly woman,” both in retribution for the successful protests highlighting the racial inequities at Missouri, and to create a chilling effect against those who might publicly protest in the future. They are sending the message that those university employees who take action in support of student protesters will be denied their established rights as faculty and staff. These politicians and political appointees are following suit in the wake of recent similar instances of political overreach into academia at the Universities of Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
This political overreach and interference is why we can no longer stay publicly silent. We cannot witness the political sacrifice of the career and reputation of a highly respected professor without speaking up. We believe that Professor Click should be judged based on her actions, balancing her successful 12-year career at Missouri against the worst few minutes of that time, by following the institution’s established rules and policies. As the University of Missouri administration has followed the proclamations of legislators and curators, abandoning due process and established procedures, it has lost legitimacy as an independent educational institution. The university administration seems to be willing to risk its broader academic reputation and the best interests of its students, staff, faculty, and alumni by abdicating its own internal policies to follow the whims of political outsiders.
For all of these reasons, we publicly support Professor Melissa Click’s rights as a faculty member to due process, in keeping with the university’s procedures and broader standards of academic institutions.
Susan Douglas, Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Communication Studies, The University of Michigan
Kathy Roberts Forde, Chair and Associate Professor of Journalism, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Lawrence Grossberg, Morris Davis Disitnguished Professor of Communication and Cultural Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Henry Jenkins, Provost’s Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California
Mary Celeste Kearney, Director of Gender Studies and Associate Professor of Film, Television, and Theatre, University of Notre Dame
Robin D. G. Kelley, Gary B. Nash Professor of U.S. History, University of California at Los Angeles
Jason Mittell, Professor of Film & Media Culture and American Studies, Middlebury College
Janice Radway, Walter Dill Scott Professor of Communication Studies, Northwestern University
Siva Vaidhyanathan, Robertson Professor of Media Studies, University of Virginia