Protesting students at the University of Missouri — bolstered when black members of the Mizzou football team joined the protest — secured their demand Nov. 9 that UM System President Tim Wolfe vacate his office.
Wolfe, after meeting with university curators, resigned as president of the four-campus UM system, and he was followed by R. Bowen Loftin, who also voluntarily stepped down as MU chancellor.
When announced, the resignations drew cheers from Concerned Student 1950 protestors camped in tents on an MU quad.
In making his announcement, Wolfe said he took “full responsibility for the inaction that has occurred. Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation,” he said. “Use my resignation to heal and start talking again.”
The story was temporarily overshadowed by actions of a pair of MU staffers who interfered with journalists trying to cover the story on the public space occupied by the protestors. “Melissa Click, an associate professor in the communications department, called for students to force a still photographer, Tim Tai, and a videographer to leave the area.
Click appealed to protestors for “muscle” to remove MU junior Mark Schierbecker, who filmed the interaction and >uploaded his footage to YouTube. (See link below.) The other staffer, Janna Basler, associate director of Greek life and leadership, was seen pushing and berating Tai in the video.
The footage sparked outrage against the women, who disparaged Tai’s reminder that he was just doing his job and was protected — like the protestors — by the First Amendment in pursuing the story on public property.
Both the School of Journalism and the School of Communications criticized the treatment of the journalists by the women. The next day, likely after being called on the carpet by superiors, Click did an about-face and issued an apology, affirming the right of the journalists to be present and do their jobs at the tent camp. She resigned from her “courtesy appointment” with the School of Journalism just as leaders were preparing to meet to discuss the matter.
The Concerned Student 1950 movement issued a statement affirming the First Amendment rights of journalists as well.
That protesting students were murky on the First Amendment is sort of excusable. They were students engaged in an emotional protest and didn’t understand that their claim to be spared media coverage in the plot they had staked out on the university campus was not valid.
That the women — employees of the university — acted as they did is inexcusable and has cast the university and its faculty in a bad light. As of this writing, the Department of Communications has not announced what role Click will have on staff moving forward — if any.
The same is true for Basler.
Apologies notwithstanding, pressure will continue from many quarters for both to follow Wolfe and Loftin in losing their positions or perhaps to be demoted.
The university is taking proactive steps to deal with the racial issue, and there are issues to be addressed for the benefit of the university and all the students involved. The resignations in and of themselves will not suddenly solve lingering racial problems.
The hard work is just beginning, and we all hope significant process is on the horizon. As Wolfe said, it is time to “start talking again” and “healing.”
Bill Webb is editor of Word & Way.