Fired University of Missouri assistant professor of mass media Melissa Click is blaming everyone but herself for actions she took last year during Black Lives Matter protests on campus. During the tense flare-ups at Mizzou, Click was filmed cursing at cops and calling for "muscle" to help her eject a student journalist engaging in his right to free press at a public event. For that, she was charged with third-degree assault.
But none of this was her fault, you see. It was all that pesky technology that captured her moment of weakness and a host of overly sensitive university administration that led to all of her troubles. At least, that's what the complaint is in an op-ed she penned for The Washington Post.
Click begins explaining that moments before she joined in with a group of black students blocking the Mizzou homecoming parade route and defiantly refusing the police officers' orders to move back, she was rushing out the door from a stressful morning with her family getting ready for this "much-anticipated event."
Before deciding to join in on the protests her family was witnessing, Click said she found herself faced with a question she hadn't anticipated that morning: "Would I remain a spectator, or would I stand with these students enduring disparagement from the bystanders who wished the parade to continue unhindered?"
She then blamed what the smartphone cameras captured -- her cursing at cops and a month later, calling for "muscle" -- as her own "inexperience with public protests." (Reminder: she was a professor of media and held a courtesy post in UM's School of Journalism at the time.) The videos, she claims, didn't capture her true intentions of helping to "make MU a more inclusive environment:"
Among the debates and judgments the video footage of my mistakes has attracted, few have sincerely grappled with the sudden choices I had to make in challenging circumstances, and fewer still have earnestly asked whether my protected right to speak out as a US citizen requires that I must be perfect while doing so.
Technology is the real enemy, according to the former professor:
As a Media Studies scholar, I understand how the increased surveillance resulting from advances in technology like digital recording and wireless broadband has come to mean that our mistakes will be widely broadcast — typically without context or rights of rebuttal — exposing us to unprecedented public scrutiny.
But I do not understand the widespread impulse to shame those whose best intentions unfortunately result in imperfect actions. What would our world be like if no one ever took a chance? What if everyone played it safe?
Click continues lamenting the fact that sources like YouTube and Twitter are forums to judge people, like herself, in the public sphere. It's these "earnest mistakes made by ordinary, unknown people" that are now being broadcast on the web in a way "typically reserved for politicians and celebrities." You mean people, not unlike yourself, that are in positions of leadership? Got it.
But it's not just technology that is to blame, but also the university's Board of Curators who failed to properly evaluate Click's conduct. She strongly suggests that the standards of excellence that all professor's must abide by while in a teaching position at the school is not the same thing as acting perfectly while on campus. She believes the board made a rash decision in terminating her without looking at her career as a whole:
[T]he Curators’ actions — and the nationwide public outcry over these few recorded moments of my actions — wholly disregard the overwhelming evidence of my outstanding contributions to MU: student evaluations, teaching awards, research and publications, service to professional organizations, and a solid case for tenure.
While I continue to fight the MU Board of Curators’ decision to terminate my employment without due process and in violation of university policy, I am also working to come to terms with how a few captured moments of imperfection could eclipse 12 years of excellence.
And lastly, Click circles the wagons once more to further drive home her point that technology is the real culprit in all of this. Yet, it's that same technology that her beloved Black Lives Matter movement have used to further its cause. A double-edged sword, no?
But beyond my specific circumstances, I believe this situation raises broader cultural, ethical, and legal questions about how surveillance and social media significantly impact the terrain of public engagement.
Whose interests are served when our drive to combat societal imperfections is defeated by fears of having our individual imperfections exposed?
And what value do our rights as citizens have in a culture increasingly ruled by snap judgments and by regulations that are easily rewritten to suit changing political interests?
We should all be concerned about the larger issues my situation raises.
I don’t want to live in a world where citizens are too afraid of public scorn to take a chance. Do you?
The final word goes to Consco65, a commenter on the WaPo op-ed: "You make a valid point, Professor. We all have 'imperfect' moments. But we all also have to live with the consequences of those moments."