Reflections on the University of Missouri

1f19a1bBy Dr. Gregory Perreault
Appalachian State University

As a recent alum of the Missouri School of Journalism doctoral program, I followed the events this November with a mixture of concern and fascination. Great pieces have been presented analyzing the questions regarding race in Missouri and the First Amendment flare up. In particular, many media scholars watched in horror as a fellow mass media scholar and professor, Dr. Melissa Click, asked for some “muscle” to have a student journalist removed from a public space. This blog will not address any of these.

Whether Dr. Click was justified in her emotions (not necessarily her understanding the law) depends entirely on your perspective, but the situation in Missouri begs for us to consider our responsibility as professors.

Being a professor is a great job and I tell that to everyone who will listen. Professors don’t have to sell a certain number of women’s shoes, we don’t have to work the night shift, and we even get health insurance. But the position holds a cultural status and, by extension, responsibility.

indexIn watching the famous video of the student photojournalist’s encounter with Dr. Melissa Click I stopped the video earlier than most when I saw that a former professor and dissertation committee member, Dr. Chip Callahan, was there at the protest raising his arms with the others. When we’re given our job descriptions “protesting with students” is not in there, yet we are asked to be advocates for our students, to mentor them, and to teach them to be citizens and participants in our field. That’s exactly why Click and Callahan were in the place that they were. Similarly, during Missouri’s less publicized protests on graduate student rights, Missouri faculty participated in graduate student walkouts.

Our participation in the causes of our students at once validates their concerns and perhaps, from an administrative standpoint, also lends them a bit of credibility. But once we’re a part of such causes, we must be cautious about our actions. Click may not lose her job, but she will have to go through the process of a Title IX proceeding for her physical handling of a student.

Similarly, one nutrition professor had an exam the day after the protests, and in the midst of troubling racially charged responses that followed the events in Missouri, he refused to cancel the exam. Several students argued that they were afraid to come to campus because of threats of a school shooting following the ouster of System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. The professor responded:

“If you give in to bullies, they win. The only way bullies are defeated is by standing up to them. If we cancel the exam, they win; if we go through with it, they lose,” Dr. Dale Brigham wrote in an email.

Under pressure from students and social media, he submitted his resignation later that day (although the university did not ultimately accept it).

This event struck home to me in that his idealistic response sounds exactly like something I would have said. I often envision my role as an instructor as one of a coach—pushing my students be their best and to face obstacles like they would face opponents in a football game. Yet the students’ frustration with their professor was entirely justified because it wasn’t a game. And like the professor, I as a white male, have not idea what it is like to fear being shot trying to do my job and for no other reason than the color of my skin.

Such events beg us to consider what roles we can play to better mentor our students and validate their concerns, while continuing to hold ourselves to the high professional standards implicit in our position.

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