Here’s a postscript to last fall’s troubles at the University of Missouri. It’s also a prelude to this fall’s presidential election.
You might not recall many of the details of those troubles, but chances are the name of Melissa Click rings a bell. She was the assistant professor of mass media caught on video haranguing a cameraman she believed was intruding on a space where demonstrating students had gathered.
“Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” she cried. “I need some muscle over here.”
You may also remember that 30 black members of the Mizzou football team went on strike. They refused to practice or play until the president of the university—whom students, black students especially, accused of fostering a racist atmosphere—was fired. He resigned the next day. So, for good measure, did the chancellor.
Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. Missouri’s Republican lieutenant governor said the students wanted “governance by mob rule.” The Republican senate leader threatened the university with a financial “haircut.” A Republican legislator in Jefferson City accused the university of coddling students and submitted a bill to revoke the scholarships of any player who pulled a stunt like that again. Another GOP legislator proposed a required class on free speech.
These proposals went nowhere, but they made clear the indignation of the party that controls the state house. Then again, the party was reflecting the distress of its constituents.
And in February, the board of curators fired Click by a vote of four-to- two.
But even that wasn’t the end of it.
In May the American Association of University Professors issued a report accusing the curators of violating Click’s right to a faculty-run disciplinary hearing in order to fire her peremptorily. This looked to the AAUP like an attempt “to appease legislators threatening to punish the institution financially if she were not dismissed.”
This past weekend, at its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., the AAUP voted to put the University of Missouri on its censure list. A Mizzou professor had asked for the censure vote, and told the Columbia Tribune afterward that the school deserved to be shamed. Censure “means we have been singled out as a university that does not respect its policies and practices.”
There’s also this: ESPN just decided to honor last fall’s striking Mizzou football team at next month’s Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards in LA. The team will be given a Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award, which “celebrates someone that has taken risk and used an innovative approach to helping the disadvantaged through the power of sports.”
ESPN explained that when “racial tensions” gave rise to a hunger strike and general protest on the Mizzou campus, the football team stepped up. “The players took a huge risk—their scholarships could have been revoked and their futures hung in the balance. But their actions indicated it was a risk worth taking to help bring action to this critical issue.”
Reporting the award, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wondered who, if anyone, the football team will delegate to accept it, given the school’s eagerness to treat last fall’s troubles as a bad dream. (Said the athletic director a few weeks ago: “How do we make sure we create an environment within our athletics program so that it never happens again?” As if it would never have occurred to athletes in a properly run department to strike on principle.)
Mizzou is my alma mater and Missouri’s my home state. Politically, it’s a swing state, tending red. I have no idea whether this fall it’ll vote for Trump or Clinton. But the question of whether football players acting out need to be honored or taught a lesson, and the question of whether a professor who shoots her mouth off has any rights worth respecting feel to me like markers of the divide that splits Missouri (not to mention the rest of the country) and won’t be bridged. Not this year, certainly.
ESPN journalists and AAUP professors are either judging Mizzou wisely or they’re meddling outsiders. Tell me what you think about that and I’ll guess whom you like in November.