Columbia’s city prosecutor has filed third-degree assault charges against Melissa Click, the University of Missouri professor who infamously called for “muscle” to prevent a student reporter from covering a protest last November. Click is alleged to have yanked a camera from Mark Shierbecker, a 22-year-old journalist filming the protest as it grew increasingly raucous.
The ironies of this story abound: On a campus wholly obsessed with the creation of “safe spaces,” a professor at least threatened — and at worst, assaulted — a student; that professor taught journalism, yet led an attack against freedom of the press; and the university has allowed her to continue teaching, even as it forced a slew of resignations over more minor purported infractions.
“I think the University has failed to institute a proper investigation of all that has happened,” Shierbecker says, adding that the only apology he has received from the university came during a news conference. Interim chancellor Henry C. Foley “has never said that to me personally, and that irritates me if he thinks a press conference is the best way to apologize to me,” Shierbecker says.
Indeed, it’s hard to believe the University of Missouri regrets much beyond the negative publicity it has rightly received.
In today’s New York Times, Foley said Click — not Shierbecker — was the one who’d been “aggrieved by the whole situation,” adding that she is teaching from home this week because “there is the risk that this could become an awkward, odd learning process.” One hundred fifteen University of Missouri professors agreed with Foley’s sentiment, signing a letter in support of their colleague that claims, “Click has been wronged in the media by those who have attacked her personally and who have called for her dismissal.”
Such statements disturb Shierbecker, who says he believes the university and its students lack a basic understanding of the First Amendment.
“I think there’s some logical disconnect going on,” Shierbecker says. “The protestors seem to care a lot about their own emotional well-being — but they don’t care about the safety of journalists who are supposed to be covering them. . . . I never want the University to say, ‘Well, OK, journalists want safe spaces, we’ll give them a press bin.’ I just want journalists to feel safe covering events. . . . They communicated to us as students that it’s OK, if you feel personally violated, to use force.”
Shierbecker says he still vividly remembers the moment the mood on the Quadrangle shifted and he began to feel afraid. He describes watching “student journalists being strong-armed” by protestors, who began pushing another reporter, Timothy Tai. Initially, Shierbecker says, he wanted to record the events in case law enforcement needed to review them later.
“I started to see that relations between the media and the crowd were deteriorating, so I pulled out my camera and started recording what was going on,” he says. “In that moment when [Click] called for muscle, I knew I was in trouble, because I didn’t want to be involved in an altercation. I’ll lose every time, especially with a number of guys who are bigger than me, including MU football — so yeah, I felt threatened.”
Schierbecker, a senior majoring in German and history, says he intends to complete his education at the University of Missouri. Still, he finds it sad that “those of us who actually know the Constitution and fight to uphold it have to educate the professors, instead of the other way around.”
While Shierbecker says he will cooperate with law enforcement, he adds: “I think there’s little to be gained by pursuing this criminally. . . . I think the best possible outcome would have been if Melissa Click resigned on November 10, when she apologized. But she didn’t, and somehow, she’s still here.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for National Review as a Thomas L. Rhodes Fellow for the Franklin Center. She is also a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and the Tony Blankley Fellow at the Steamboat Institute.