POLITICS

In Missouri, Lawmakers Can Shut Out Reporters But Professors Can't

State legislators are upset that a professor tried to keep reporters from covering a protest. They also just passed a rule to ban reporters from the state Senate floor.

Missouri lawmakers believe reporters should be able to do their jobs -- unless they're trying to do them at the state Senate.

On Monday, Republican lawmakers in Missouri made public a letter demanding that the University of Missouri fire Melissa Click, an assistant professor in the school's communication department who became notorious last year after she called for student journalists to be forcibly removed from a campus protest.

The lawmakers' letter, originally sent Dec. 18, was co-signed by more than 100 state representatives and 18 state senators. It became public this week just days before members of the Republican leadership in the state Senate introduced a proposal to bar reporters from the Senate floor. That measure passed the state Senate on Thursday, and will go into effect in March.

The irony was not lost on observers.

Click became the object of intense backlash last year after a Nov. 9 protest at Mizzou related to the then-recent resignation of President Tim Wolfe. In a video, Click can be seen telling student journalists that they're not allowed in a certain area of campus -- an area that protesters had asked to be respected as a media-free "safe space," but one that was legally accessible to reporters under the First Amendment.

"I need some muscle over here," Click calls to someone in the video, after telling a reporter to "get out."

Click apologized for her remarks the next day, and at least one of the journalists in the video forgave her. But critics were incensed, saying that Click should have known better as a member of the school's communication department.

However, Click has defenders: At least 115 faculty members at Mizzou have signed a letter to university administrators saying that her actions were a "regrettable mistake," but that she's proven herself a worthy instructor and researcher. 

"We believe that Click has been wronged in the media by those who have attacked her personally and have called for her dismissal," says the faculty members' letter, which was made public Tuesday. "We affirm our support of her as a colleague, a teacher, and a scholar, and we call upon the University to defend her first amendment rights of protest and her freedom to act as a private citizen."

 

Meanwhile, the Missouri state Senate's rule change will restrict reporters to the fourth- and fifth-floor galleries of the chamber, and will prevent journalists from coming onto the Senate floor. Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard (R) sponsored the rule change, and Missouri Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe (R) defended it to reporters this week, saying the lawmakers "have been talking about it for years." 

Both Richard and Kehoe signed the Dec. 18 letter that rebuked Click for harassing journalists who were trying to do their jobs -- "jobs which are soundly protected by the Constitution," as the letter put it.

Richard said the rule change was needed because journalists were tweeting what they overheard senators saying on the floor, according to Kansas City Star reporter Jason Hancock.

The rule change passed the Senate 26 to 4.

Jeremy LaFaver, a Democratic state representative in Missouri, joked that Click would be hired as the Senate's "doorperson."

Jeff Rouder, a Mizzou professor in the psychological sciences department who signed the letter in defense of Click, said he'd thought at first that the senators had proposed their rule change ironically.

"The fact that they are not sarcastic makes it all the more sad," Rouder told The Huffington Post.

Richard and Kehoe did not respond to requests for comment. Click and the University of Missouri, as well as the student protesters whom Click was trying to defend in the Nov. 9 video, likewise did not respond to requests for comment. One of the student journalists who appears in the video declined to comment for this story.

Read the letter from GOP lawmakers asking that Click be terminated from Mizzou: 

Read the letter from Mizzou faculty defending Click from calls that she be fired:

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Tyler Kingkade is a national reporter covering higher education, and is based in New York. You can contact him at tyler.kingkade@huffingtonpost.com, or find him on Twitter: @tylerkingkade.

 

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