Addressing the Real Problems at Mizzou, Not the Fake Ones

The Rude Pundit, being a professor and all (really, tenured and everything), ran into another professor who, it happens, is in media studies. Walking across campus, the prof asked the Rude Pundit what he thought about the incident where University of Missouri communications professor Melissa Click called for "muscle" to block reporters from covering the encampment of anti-racism protesters on the school grounds. "What she did was fucking stupid," he said, "and that's not even getting into the plantation mentality of a white professor demanding mostly black students act violently for her."

The media studies prof agreed. Click was stupid, and as professors, it pained us to see her make herself so much a part of the story. "But," he added, "really she just said something in the heat of the moment that she didn't mean."

The Rude Pundit responded, "Yeah, but that's exactly the kind of thing that some people protest over and make other people lose their jobs." He was referring to incidents where somebody, in a heated moment, says or writes (and sends) something racist or awful.

We also agreed that Click shouldn't lose her job over it. Click has apologized, been stripped of any duties in the journalism department, and will probably keep her position. That's the way this should head. It should go that way for Jenna Basler, a staff member with Student Life at MU, who has also apologized for her interactions with the reporters. People are allowed to say stupid things, and, as long as they do not act on their stupidity in a way that harms others (if, say, Click had failed students who were trying to report on the story), then there is no reason, short of revenge, to force someone out.

This doesn't go for the administrators at MU who resigned. MU President Tim Wolfe fucked up. He ignored real and consequential racist actions on his campus. He ignored students who appealed to him to do something. MU student Jonathan Butler put it this way: "We’ve sent emails, we’ve sent tweets, we’ve messaged but we’ve gotten no response back from the upper officials at Mizzou to really make change on this campus." Let's be honest: the main reason Wolfe resigned is because the football team threatened to boycott a game, which would have cost MU a million bucks in penalties to the NCAA. You can bet the Board of Trustees pretty much told him to get the fuck out or they would fire his ass. But the fact that the situation had gotten so bad that it got the football team, including the coaches, involved is damning enough.

And, let's be honest, again, in addition to Click, everyone involved in the effort to block student journalist Tim Tai from entering the area is pretty much wrong. The organizers were wrong for putting up the signs banning the media. The protesters were wrong to form a human wall around Tai and allowing this whole thing to even occur. Tai was wrong for not backing off and trying to find another angle or report on the blocking of media as the story. MU student Mark Schierbecker wasn't wrong for filming the incident but was totally fucking wrong for filing an assault complaint against Click with MU police department and for saying, after Click personally apologized to him, "[M]y number one priority...is making sure she never teaches ever again."

Students will do stupid shit because they're fucking students. They're brand new adults, really, truly, and they're going to do things to excess. It's the way it goes when you're learning to negotiate the world before you get your sea legs.

We need to be able to separate these excesses from the real issues. The Rude Pundit could very easily tell kids to get off his lawn with their goddamned safe spaces and microaggressions. He could very easily give in to the urge to say these are whining, privileged, PC-clinging delicate flowers. But that's a punk-ass way to deal with some genuine problems that exist underneath the whining. Doing that gets you out of confronting the fucking racists who fucking are to blame for this fucking situation in the first fucking place.

As Tai said in an entirely rational and reasonable tweet, "I'm a little perturbed at being part of the story, so maybe let's focus some more reporting on systemic racism in higher ed institutions." That's the thing: it is so easy to discredit a movement based on its excesses. It is far, far more difficult to take it seriously and make necessary changes. But, at the same time, like it or not, a movement like Concerned Student 1950 needs to be aware of external perceptions (or, you know, "optics," as they say in the PR business) and cognizant of when something is excessive (which, yes, is in the rage-filled eye of the beholder) and those in positions of authority need to fucking know better than the students they need to guide.

One last note: If you're making death threats on anyone involved in any of this, no matter which side you're on, you should have a shit swastika smeared on you.