KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — An interim chancellor on Monday rebuffed demands for the ouster of an assistant University of Missouri professor that have been rekindled in the wake of her being criminally charged for a campus run-in with student journalists during protests.
Hank Foley, who oversees the four-school system's campus in Columbia, said the university "must allow due process to play out" and will not rush when it comes to determining Melissa Click's future at the school, including a decision on tenure.
"For those of you calling for hasty action, I say that we have good, strong processes in place," Foley said at a news conference.
Click, 45, was charged with misdemeanor assault earlier Monday. The assistant communications professor faces up to 15 days in jail and a fine up to $300 if convicted. The charge is related to a confrontation she had with a student photographer and a student videographer in November during protests over what some saw as indifference to racial issues.
Click called for "some muscle" to help remove the videographer, Mark Schierbecker, from the protest area on the Columbia campus. Schierbecker's video of the run-in went viral, and he complained to university police.
The confrontation came the same day the university system's president and the Columbia campus' chancellor resigned.
Click later said publicly that she regretted her actions, and that she apologized to Schierbecker and all journalists and the university community for detracting from the students' efforts to improve the Columbia campus' racial climate. Foley said Monday that Click "is quite aggrieved by this," and he called her legal troubles the result of a "moment of heated anger."
When asked about the prospect of Click being fired before her tenure process is completed later this year, Foley replied: "No. Not going to happen."
Click did not respond to an email seeking comment Monday. Her university phone's voicemail was full and not accepting messages, and her home number was disconnected.
Columbia city prosecutor Steve Richey, who filed the charge against Click and retires next month, did not return messages seeking comment.
Schierbecker said he found Foley's comments disheartening.
"I'm all for due process, but it just seems like a broken system if an untenured professor can't be fired for basic open-and-shut cases like this," the senior from suburban St. Louis, who is majoring in German and history, told The Associated Press. "I'm just a little disappointed the city was faster to move on this than the university."
A member of the university system's governing curators renewed his call for Click's firing Monday. David Steelman said the school placed a letter admonishment in Click's employment file over the matter, but that doesn't satisfy him.
"I'm willing to listen to the possibility of other job actions involving her as long as they're serious," Steelman, a Rolla attorney, said. "The whole situation surrounding this has been stonewalling and an attempt to run out the clock by the university" in hopes it fades from the limelight.
"Respecting students' rights, free speech and safety has to be the No. 1 priority of any great university," he said.
Sen. Eric Schmitt and other Republicans on the state Senate floor Monday questioned why Click hasn't been fired. However, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat, said the discussion about Click is a distraction from dealing with the racial issues at the university.
Ben Trachtenberg, an associate law professor who chairs the Columbia campus' Faculty Council on University Policy, questioned the appropriateness of Click being charged.
"It seems like there are a lot of little scuffles and shoving in this country that don't lead to the involvement of the criminal justice system," he said.
Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this report from Jefferson City.