November 9, 2015, clash between the media and racial protesters at the University of Missouri

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Tim Tai is blocked by protesters from the south side of the quad

On November 9, 2015, soon after the resignation of University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe, a group of protesters allying themselves with the Concerned Student 1950 racial protest group formed a human wall between members of the media and a core group of protesters at the group's tent city on Carnahan Quadrangle.

A conflict erupted between the protesters and the journalists who were attempting to cover the event.

Video of one confrontation went viral and spurred several investigations of the staff and faculty involved that led to the firing of a communication professor who assaulted a student journalist in the video.

Background

Activists from the Occupy SLU demonstrations in 2014 advised Concerned Student 1950 against talking to the media.[1]

A group of student protesters calling themselves Concerned Student 1950 set up camp on Carnahan Quadrangle. One of the group's leaders staged a hunger strike and players on the MU football team promised to end team activities until Wolfe left his position. On the morning of Monday, November 9, Wolfe stepped down.

November 9, 2015

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Tim Tai asserts his First Amendment right to film in a public place, as Greek Life director Janna Basler assaults him. Videographer Mark Schierbecker tries to interview communication professor Melissa Click, who grabs his camera.

Shortly after the resignation of University of Missouri System president Tim Wolfe on November 9, 2015, at the University of Missouri, a group of protesters formed a human wall between members of the media and a core group of protesters at Carnahan Quadrangle.

Wolfe's resignation came after days of him insisting he would remain as president, taking some at the camp by surprise. Shortly after Wolfe announced his resignation at 10:15 am, members of Concerned Student 1950 requested a "safe space" free from reporters to regroup, and retreated into the encampment. Protesters immediately began forming a human barrier to separate journalists from the protest. On the quad, celebrations over Wolfe's departure turned into anger at journalists who were perceived as being intrusive.

On the south end of the quad, Tim Tai, an MU student photographer on a freelance assignment for ESPN, stood outside the circle that was forming and was being blocked from taking photos of the encampment. In the encounter filmed by student Mark Schierbecker, Chip Callahan, the chair of the MU Department of Religious Studies tells Tai not to push people. Tai disputes that he has done so.

Callahan's wife, Melissa Click, an assistant professor of Communication at MU led protesters in a chant of "hey, hey, ho, ho. Reporters have got to go."

Janna Basler, assistant director of Greek Life, tells Tai to "back off" and tells him that he was "infringing on what [the protesters] need right now, which is to be alone."

During the encounter, Storm Ervin, one of the 11 original protesters from Concerned Student 1950, told Tai to step back.[2]

The line of students began to walk forward pushing Tai backward. In the course of the confrontation Basler makes physical contact with Tai. Basler tells Tai, "I don’t have a choice."[3]


Inside the circle Schierbecker identified himself as "media" to Click, and requested an interview with her. Click told him "no, you need to get out," and then grasped Schierbecker camera briefly when he refused to leave before calling to others: "Hey, who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here."

The next morning Schierbecker posted a longer video of the confrontation showing about 50 seconds of footage prior to the first video, and about 5 minutes after the first video ends. An anonymous employee told The Missourian that Tai had briefly tried to push through her and other protesters early in the encounter. Schierbecker's longer video shows Tai leaning forward into the wall of protesters early in the confrontation, Tai told the newspaper he was only trying to maintain his balance.[4]

After the video started picking up traction later that day, Concerned Student 1950 started defended its actions on social media. In one tweet they asked for media to give leave the camp some space so that they could be protected from "twisted insincere narratives." In another tweet they wrote, "If you have a problem with us wanting to have our spaces that we create respected, leave!"[5] However on November 10 Concerned Student 1950 removed signs that had warned the media to stay away. The protest group handed out fliers to demonstrators calling the events of the day before a "Teachable Moment."

"The media is important to tell our story and experiences at Mizzou to the world," the flier read. "Let's welcome and thank them."[6]

Janna Basler

In a statement November 10 Basler apologized to Tai.

Yesterday, I allowed my emotions to get the best of me while trying to protect some of our students. Instead of defusing an already tense situation, I contributed to its escalation. I regret how I handled the situation, and I am offering a public apology to the journalist involved. ... What happened on Carnahan Quadrangle has been a lesson for me. I am deeply sorry for what happened.

In a statement defending Basler, the three MU Greek councils wrote that, "we do not feel as if her actions at that time were reflective of her intentions to support students."[7]

On November 11 Basler apologized to Tai in person, which he accepted. That same day the MU Office of Greek Life placed Basler on administrative leave pending an investigation.[8] On December 8 Basler received a formal Letter of Reprimand from the Department of Greek Life. She returned to her job in December more than a month after she had been put on leave.[9]

Melissa Click

Melissa Click tells Schierbecker he "needs to get out."

In a statement, department of communication chair Mitchell S. McKinney said, "We applaud student journalists who were working in a very trying atmosphere to report a significant story. Intimidation is never an acceptable form of communication."[10]

On November 10 Click apologized to Schierbecker in her office and Tai over the phone. While Tai accepted her apology, Schierbecker was doubtful whether her apology was sincere and requested that she accompany him for an interview with KBIA, a local NPR member station.[11]

The same day Brian Brooks, a former associate dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, filed Title IX complaints against Basler and Click.[12]

After The Maneater Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth Loutfi released a statement calling for Click to be removed from her chair position on the Student Publications Committee, the group tasked with making policy recommendations for The Maneater to the chancellor, saying that it threatened the newspaper's "objectivity and credibility as a student publication." On November 11 Click released a statement announcing her resignation from the committee.[13][7]

In a resolution passed December 2, the Missouri Students Association Senate, representing MU undergraduates, called for MU administration and the Department of Communication to “reevaluate and release a statement" regarding Click's actions in the November 9 protest.[14]

On January 4 over 100 Republicans in the Missouri legislature signed a letter requesting that the university fire Click.[15]

On January 21 in an op-ed in The Washington Post UM Curator David Steelman wrote that “Professor Click’s actions were at a minimum in reckless disregard of student rights and safety; and they were clearly disrespectful,” and that she should be fired.[16]

On January 25 the Columbia city prosecutor filed simple assault charges against Click, a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine.[17] Click's attorney said Click would enter a not guilty plea and waive formal arraignment on the charge.[18] On January 29 the city prosecutor announced that Click had agreed to a deferred prosecution deal with 20 hours of community service and a year of probation.[19] At a press conference later that day, Interim MU Chancellor Hank Foley said that Click's employment with the university was secure until her tenure was reviewed, planned to be completed by August. Foley also apologized to Tai and Schierbecker.[20]

On January 27 the Board of Curators voted unanimously to suspend Click with pay pending the completion of an investigation.[21]

In February the MU Faculty Council Executive Committee wrote that the the Board of Curators had violated Click's right to due process, and that the existing "faculty irresponsibility" disciplinary process was adequate.[22]

On February 4 supporters of Click from Concerned Student 1950 disrupted a Board of Curators meeting in the Reynolds Alumni Center.[23]

Concerned Student 1950 released a statement saying that Click had become a "victim of social and political violence."[24]

On February 15, after police bodycam footage of Click cursing at a police officer during a homecoming parade was released by The Columbia Missourian, Foley released a statement calling her behavior "appalling," saying he would address her "pattern of misconduct" with the curators.[25]

Missouri state senator Paul Wieland initiated a written "faculty irresponsibility" complaint against Click with the university for her actions at the Homecoming parade and November 9 protest. Wieland's charge was not investigated as the university determined he did not have standing with the university.[26]

Threats

Click canceled classes November 10 citing "rape and death threats."[27] In January The Chronicle of Higher Education obtained 1,100 pages of emails Click received from November 9–10.[28]

Investigation

In a February interview Click told investigators she disagreed with Stokes' letter of reprimand that called her actions "completely unacceptable," and saying that she "failed to exercise appropriate restraint," that she "failed to show respect for the opinion of others," and that she "made a serious mistake," saying that Stokes never asked for her side of the story.[29] On 25 February the Board of Curators voted 4–2 to fire Click. Middleton and Foley both supported the decision.[30] On March 14 the Board of Curators voted unanimously to reject Click's appeal of her firing.[31] The Faculty Council released a statement accusing the Board of violating Click's right to due process.[32]

Dispute with other reporter

In interviews Click characterized her actions on November 9th "one moment," saying, "I don’t think one mistake should be the end of a career."[33]

In interviews Schierbecker told journalists he believed Click was dishonestly downplaying the incident with him as the only one she was involved in that day. He said he had seen her grab another person's camera earlier in the day.

"A scrum of reporters came up to [Click] and asked [to interview] this student and [Click] turned them down and laid hands on this man's camera," Schierbecker said. "If she's going to continue with the narrative that this is just between me and her... That's not true."[34]

Asked in another February interview with KMIZ whether Schierbecker's claims were true, Click acknowledged that a reporter grabbed her arm, but denied that she touched anyone else's camera saying, “The day was a really busy one with lots of things going on. I don’t know how [Schierbecker] could say that and I don’t know what evidence he has to prove that."[35]

Footage from the student-filmed Field of Vision documentary Concerned Student 1950 released publicly in March 2016 shows Click put her hand on an unidentified journalist's camera shielding it from a Concerned Student 1950 member. The cameraman reacts, grasping Click’s arm down forcefully.[35]

In the university's February report, investigators had asked Click "whether she had been physically struck by any member of the media" at the November 9 protest. The report said, "Professor Click told us that at that time a cameraman grabbed her arm and ‘growled’ at her," but that she "did not consider it a ‘big deal’, and did not call law enforcement at the time."[35]

AAUP involvement and potential lawsuit

On February 2, the American Association of University Professors sent a letter to Foley protesting Click's suspension. AAUP wrote another letter February 26 following her firing. In another letter, sent March 3, AAUP warned of a possible investigation if Click was not re-instated.

On March 7, AAUP approved the creation of an ad hoc committee to investigate whether Click's dismissal violated the AAUP's 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, other AAUP-supported procedures and UM System policy. If the committee recommends censure based on their findings, which are expected in May, the AAUP will vote whether to place the university on its censure list at its annual meeting June 18.[36]

As of April, Click is planning to sue the Board of Curators. An online crowdfunding campaign started by a friend of Click is raising money to help defray Click's legal expenses.[37]

Tim Tai

Tim Tai argues with Janna Basler

Tai was a former photojournalist for The Missourian.[38]

In December 2015 Tai won the "First Amendment Defender Award" from the Radio Television Digital News Association for his actions at the protest.[39]

References

  1. Toler, Lindsay (10 November 2015). "St. Louis Journalists Disagree Over Mizzou Media Blockade". St. Louis Magazine. Retrieved 11 May 2016. The similarities between the Mizzou media blackout and similar efforts during Ferguson protests are more than just coincidence, Stewart says. Activists who orchestrated the Occupy SLU demonstrations last year came to Mizzou to help the protests and suggested to leaders that they control response to the media. 
  2. Deutsch, Jillian (12 November 2016). "An insider’s view: The wall between student activists and student journalists". Poynter. Retrieved 11 May 2016. The human wall fought back. It thrust its hands in the air to block the camera’s view, and they pushed the circle out, attempting to take ESPN freelancer and journalism student Tim Tai with it. Storm Ervin, one of the 11 original protesters, told Tai to step back. 
  3. Peters, Jonathan (10 November 2015). "Why journalists have the right to cover the University of Missouri protests". Columbia Journalism Review. Retrieved 12 May 2016. As the students behind Basler begin to push forward, she makes physical contact with Tai, prompting him to object, to which she responds, “I don’t have a choice.” The students seem to decide that since he’s not going to move, they’re going to move forward as a human chain, physically pushing him back with their bodies. A student adds, “It’s our right to walk forward.” 
  4. Schmitt, William (14 November 2015). "Context of protest video questioned amid fallout at MU". The Columbia Missourian. Retrieved 10 May 2016. Neither doubts that their bodies touched, and neither said they wished the other harm. But the employee, who has been granted anonymity for this story, is questioning the context of the contact. 
  5. Huguelet, Austin; Victor, Daniel (9 November 2015). "‘I Need Some Muscle’: Missouri Activists Block Journalists". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 May 2016. On Twitter, students who participated in the protest defended their decision to create a 'safe space' without journalists 
  6. Suhr, Jim (11 November 2015). "Missouri protesters welcome media, day after shunning it". Associated Press. Retrieved 11 May 2016. Activists removed yard signs warning the media to stay away from a grassy area of campus that has served as an impromptu campsite for the protesters in recent days. Concerned Student 1950, a group which led the protests, put out fliers titled "Teachable Moment" that encouraged demonstrators to cooperate with the media. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 Mitzel, Claire (10 November 2016). "Petitions started to remove two MU employees after incident with journalists". The Maneater. Retrieved 11 May 2016. On Wednesday, Nov. 11, Click released another statement resigning both her courtesy appointment to the School of Journalism and appointment to the Chancellor’s Student Publications Committee. 'I have enjoyed working with the faculty, staff, and students in both groups and deeply respect their missions,” the statement read. “Effective today, I have resigned my affiliation with the MU School of Journalism and Chancellor’s Student Publications Committee to allow them to continue their important work without further distraction.' 
  8. Christine, Byers (11 November 2015). "Director of Greek life at Mizzou placed on administrative leave". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 11 May 2016. Tai said he remains neutral about news of Basler's suspension, but he said the two talked on Wednesday and she had personally apologized to him. 
  9. Solis, Brendan (16 December 2016). "UPDATE: Janna Basler, MU assistant director of Greek Life, back after video fallout". The Columbia Missourian. Retrieved 11 May 2016. Janna Basler has returned to her job as Assistant Director of Greek Life at MU after more than a month of administrative leave, the MU Office of Greek Life said Tuesday. 
  10. PÉrez-PeÑa, Richard; Hauser, Christine (10 November 2016). "University of Missouri Professor Who Confronted Photographer Quits Journalism Post". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 May 2016. 
  11. Holley, Peter. "Missouri student says he doesn’t accept professor’s apology for confrontation". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 May 2016. 
  12. Serven, Ruth; Schmitt, William (11 November 2015). "UPDATE: MU director of Greek Life put on leave; Title IX complaint filed against her and Click". The Columbia Missourian. Retrieved 5 May 2016. 
  13. Mullin, Benjamin (11 November 2015). "Melissa Click disappears from committee advising Mizzou’s student newspaper". Poynter. Retrieved 5 May 2016. Until today, the University of Missouri's website showed Click as the chair of the school's Student Publications Committee, which recommends to administrators policy changes regarding the student-run newspaper and yearbook. The site now describes her spot as simply 'vacant.' 
  14. Tribune Staff (3 December 2016). "Student senate calls for official statement on MU professor's actions at protest". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 10 May 2016. 
  15. Stuckey, Alex (4 January 2016). "Republican lawmakers: Fire Mizzou professor who bullied student journalist". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved 5 May 2016. 
  16. Knott, Katherine (16 February 2016). "Suspended professor Melissa Click speaks out". The Maneater. Retrieved 10 May 2016. 
  17. Burdziak, Alan; Favignano, Megan (25 January 2016). "City prosecutor files assault charge against MU professor". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 28 April 2016. Melissa Click faces a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine, for requesting 'some muscle' to help remove Mark Schierbecker, a student journalist, from Carnahan Quadrangle on Nov. 9 at the height of student demonstrations about racism on campus. City Prosecutor Steve Richey filed the charge Monday morning, about two months after MU police sent the case to his office. 
  18. Favignano, Megan; Burdziak, Alan (26 January 2016). "Attorney: Melissa Click to plead not guilty to misdemeanor assault charge". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 11 May 2016. Christopher Slusher, Melissa Click’s lawyer, said she will waive formal arraignment on the charge, a Class C misdemeanor punishable by as much as 15 days in jail and a $300 fine upon conviction. 
  19. Burdziak, Alan (29 January 2016). "City prosecutor reaches deal with Melissa Click". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 10 May 2016. Melissa Click, 45, an assistant professor of communication, has agreed to a deal in which city Prosecutor Steve Richey will forgo prosecution for misdemeanor assault as long as she completes 20 hours of community service and does not break the law for one year, Richey said in a news release. 
  20. Paggiarino, Liv; Colburn, Allison (25 January 2016). "UPDATE: MU chancellor says Melissa Click will keep her job pending tenure process". The Columbia Missourian. Retrieved 10 May 2016. Foley said the committee deliberations would take a few months and would not interfere with Click's tenure process, which began in September and will be decided by August. Foley said he and Provost Garnett Stokes will review Click's body of academic work before a tenure decision is reached. 
  21. Favignano, Megan; Keller, Rudi (28 January 2016). "UM curators suspend MU Professor Melissa Click pending investigation". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 28 April 2016. 
  22. Keller, Rudi (3 February 2016). "Melissa Click case continues to plague curators as criticism of suspension escalates". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 11 May 2016. The American Association of University Professors, which questioned the suspension in an email to the Tribune last week, urged Click’s reinstatement in a letter Tuesday to interim Chancellor Hank Foley. Hans-Joerg Tiede, associate secretary of the association, wrote that the suspension violates association guidelines and university regulations. 
  23. Keller, Rudi (4 February 2016). "Members of Concerned Student 1950 interrupt University of Missouri curators to show support for Melissa Click". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 10 May 2016. 
  24. Schmidt, Rose (28 January 2016). "Concerned Student 1950 responds to Melissa Click's suspension". Retrieved 5 May 2016. 
  25. Campbell, Caitlin (15 February 2016). "MU Chancellor, curator "appalled" by new Melissa Click body camera footage". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 28 April 2016. In the footage taken on Oct. 10, Click, an assistant professor of communication, can be seen joining arms and chanting with protesters in the street as they block former UM President Tim Wolfe’s vehicle in the parade at Ninth Street and University Avenue. Police officers approach the protesters and physically guide them out of the street onto the nearby sidewalk while repeatedly yelling 'get out of the road.' 
  26. Schmitt, William (19 February 2016). "Senator's charge won't initiate disciplinary action against Melissa Click". The Columbia Missourian. Retrieved 13 May 2016. The complaint alleged that Click violated UM System rules and regulations "on October 10th, 2015, by yelling profanities at police offices (sic) and on November 9th, 2015, in a confrontation with a student photographer, Mr. Tim Tai, when she called for 'muscle' to have him removed from a public space.' 
  27. Kingkade, Tyler (10 November 2015). "Mizzou Professor Melissa Click Gets Death And Rape Threats". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 May 2016. In a noon email Tuesday to her honors course students, Click said the chair of the communication department suggested that she remain in her office. 
  28. Kolowich, Steve (13 January 2016). "Melissa Click’s Inbox". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 11 May 2016. The university handed over approximately 1,100 pages of emails received that day and the next day, and some patterns emerged. Broadly speaking, 12 kinds of messages landed in Ms. Click's inbox: 
  29. Schmitt, William (26 February 2016). "Curators' report, Melissa Click's response contradict on context and comments". The Columbia Missourian. Retrieved 11 May 2016. According to the report by the Bryan Cave law firm, Click attempted to explain her actions the next day to a group of journalism faculty considering whether to revoke her courtesy appointment to the school. 
  30. Keller, Rudi (26 February 2016). "Melissa Click calls investigation by University of Missouri curators unfair". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 11 May 2016. Middleton, who was silent through most of the conference call, said he agreed with the decision of the board. 'I think they handled it fairly, objectively,” he said. “They have done an exhaustive investigation.' 
  31. Keller, Rudi (15 March 2016). "University of Missouri curators reject Melissa Click's appeal". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 28 April 2016. In a news release Tuesday morning, the board said it voted unanimously during a closed session Monday to reject Click’s appeal. She had been on paid suspension during the appeal, Board of Curators Chairwoman Pam Henrickson said Monday. 
  32. Keller, Rudi (26 February 2016). "Foley grilled by faculty for University of Missouri curators' decision to fire Melissa Click". The Columbia Daily Tribune. Retrieved 11 May 2016. Foley had been scheduled to speak with the council for several weeks. But the timing — 90 minutes after the announcement that assistant communication professor Melissa Click had been fired by the Board of Curators — made that decision the main topic of discussion. Click was fired after the curators commissioned an investigation of her actions, caught on video by a student, during the Nov. 9 demonstrations on Carnahan Quadrangle. 
  33. Rieder, Rem (16 February 2016). "Rieder: Mizzou prof says one mistake shouldn't end career". USA Today. Retrieved 11 May 2016. 'I hope my critics will be willing to place my actions in context and not judge me just on one action,' she says. 'I don't think one mistake should be the end of a career.' 
  34. Jessica, Quick (11 February 2016). "Student journalist reacts to MU professor's first public interview". KMIZ. Retrieved 11 May 2016. Schierbecker said the confrontation between him and Click wasn't the only scuffle she was involved in that day. 
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 Schierbecker, Mark (24 March 2016). "VIDEO: Mizzou’s Melissa Click grabbed another journalist’s camera at racial protest". The College Fix. Retrieved 11 May 2016. The footage shows Click laying her hand on an unidentified reporter’s video camera to prevent him from filming group member Andrea Fulgiam after she addressed the crowd. The reporter reacts, grasping Click’s arm down forcefully. Another unidentified reporter, working with the first, scowls at Click. 
  36. Smith, Rebecca; Phillips, Rachel (7 March 2016). "AAUP to investigate Melissa Click's firing". The Columbia Missourian. Retrieved 1 May 2016. The letter said Click's reinstatement was 'the only acceptable resolution' and said that if she got her job back and the university adhered to due process in the future, an investigation would no longer be necessary. 
  37. Wilson, Robin (24 April 2016). "Being Melissa Click". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 28 April 2016. When Ms. Click filed for unemployment, she was denied, she says, because the university said she’d been fired for cause. She has appealed. And she is planning to sue the institution, arguing that it denied her due process. A friend started a GoFundMe campaign, Stand With Melissa, to help pay her legal bills (it has raised $13,332 toward a goal of $38,000). 
  38. Pierce, Matt (9 November 2015). "Video captures Missouri protesters' clash with media". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 May 2016. The video drew a stern rebuke from the editor of the Columbia Missourian, a university newspaper staffed with professional editors and student reporters and photographers. Tai had been a photographer at the paper a year earlier. 
  39. Mullin, Benjamin (4 December 2016). "Tim Tai wins First Amendment award". Poynter. Retrieved 11 May 2016. The 'First Amendment Defender Award,' awarded by the Radio Television Digital News Association, celebrates 'an individual or organization that takes a public stand in support of press freedom.' 

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