For a moment last year, University of Missouri professor Melissa Click went viral. Not because of her scholarship — which includes papers on the "gendered reaction
" to Twilight
fangirls and "'Let’s Hug It Out, Bitch' HBO’s Entourage, Masculinity in Crisis, and the Value of Audience Studies"
— but for her angry reaction to student journalists covering a Missouri protest.
Despite the journalists being in a public space protected by the First Amendment, covering protesters also protected by the First Amendment, Click angrily told one journalist, "you need to get out," and called for "muscle
" to remove him. She later apologized, but not everyone
found her apology convincing.
Last week, the student newspaper Gonzaga Bulletin broke the news
that Click has been hired as a lecturer at Gonzaga. This isn't the first time this year Gonzaga's been tied to a free speech controversy. While as a private university the First Amendment does not apply to Gonzaga, it still came under criticism
for initially barring the public from attending the speech of conservative pundit and convicted felon
Dinesh D'souza on campus. Gonzaga eventually relented
Given that Click had become totemic for a lot of conservatives — and a few liberals — of everything that's wrong with the "safe space" culture on college campuses, Gonzaga's choice to hire Click again thrust the university into a national debate over academic freedom. A crowd of mostly conservative and libertarian pundits wrestled over whether Click's hiring was proof of everything wrong with academia or a welcome second chance for a woman who'd been the victim of an online mob.
The national eye had already been on the University of Missouri last year for the protests over racial inequity. But Click's behavior inflamed an entirely different section of the American public, with conservatives and libertarians outraged at Click's eagerness to try to suppress the student press. Alumni and even Missouri legislators
called for her termination.
They got it. In February, Click was fired
by the university. Her firing, the American Association of University Professors later concluded
, jeopardized academic freedom.
Click painted herself as a victim, telling the Chronicle of Higher Education
that her gender and white skin made her an ideal scapegoat
“I'm a white lady," she said. "I'm an easy target."
Gonzaga's choice to hire her again made Click a target for criticism.
Here's National Review
's Jay Nordlinger:
News of her hiring appeared on conservative aggregator Twitchy
. The conservative American Spectator
deemed it "another example of the absolutely broken hiring and reward system
in higher education today, and the audacity of those who control it."
Robby Soave, at the libertarian Reason
magazine, opined that, without clearer evidence of contrition, Click made a curious choice to teach in an area where she'd so evidently failed
"How can it possibly be the case that she is currently the most qualified person to teach communications (of all things), when she doesn't even seem capable of learning from her own mistakes?" Soave wrote.
Rod Dreher, conservative columnist for The American Conservative,
echoed the surprise:
No, Dreher argues, she shouldn't even be teaching journalism.
But that reaction was not universal. Jack Shafer, Politico's media critic, encouraged mercy:
It's an argument that the Atlantic
's libertarian writer Conor Friedersdorf has made before.
In our online outrage culture, he argued, we tend to turn real people into effigies of political beliefs. In February, he wrote, Click had become a scapegoat in the culture wars. What she did was awful, Friedersdorf wrote
. But not exactly assault.
"After reading those stories, I suggested a new norm: 'We’d all be better off if Americans developed an aversion to people being fired for public missteps that have nothing to do with their jobs,'" he elaborated. "As long as the culture war rages on, we may as well agree to some rules of engagement that minimize the needless harm to innocents."
And Conor stuck to that belief: One awful moment shouldn't cost Click her career:
But Ken White, a Los Angeles defense attorney who blogs on First Amendment issues as "Popehat," was skeptical that Click's outburst was just a "one-time" thing.
Shafer didn't bite either, tweeting that "I will not bet that Click won't f—- up again
But the she-deserves-another-chance argument cropped up in some surprising places. Here's former Breitbart writer John Nolte, not a guy known for his prudence and reserve:
Meanwhile, freelance journalist Leah Sottile, former Inlander
writer and former Gonzaga Bulletin
editor, directed praise, not at her alma mater, but at the student journalists who broke the story.