Nevertheless, Melissa Click will try and the media apparently will be giving her their best helping hand.
I had much to say about it over on the twitters. And it appears I upset an editor/Mizzou Faculty member:
@tsrblke This doesn't even make any sense. FYI.
— reedkath (@reedkath) February 16, 2016
Actually Prof. Reed it does make sense given that I had 140 characters to make a point. I confess “near threats” is an awkward term, but I wanted to separate it from “true threats”. Maybe a few of them rise to that level, but I doubt they do. If you need a primer on why, here’s Ken from Popehat putting some learning in you.
But what, you may ask is my problem with the article. After all I’m not a journalism professor, so clearly I can’t know anything about this.
Except that I am a bioethicist, and as part of my studies I’ve had a chance to look a lot at narrative and how it can be used to push specific viewpoints. We had some shorthand around the department for this. Sometimes we called it “narrative abuse.” Later when it started being increasingly more manipulative we termed it “weaponization of narrative.” And when we were feeling snarky we’d simply say “claims of emotivism indeed.” (A reference to the title of Chapter 2 of Alasdair MacIntyre’s seminal work.)
How does this work in practice. Let’s look at the text! Right up front the article says:
Since Nov. 9, Click has faced the following:
- Death threats, rape threats and calls for her to be jailed and fired.
By placing those on the same line the author (or perhaps editor in this case) intends the reader to see them as equivalent. When the are clearly not. The first 2 may be harassment or even true threats. (I’ll leave that up to the lawyers). Regardless they aren’t moral or defensible by me. The 3rd and 4th are protected speech, and pretty clearly defensible under at least a generic defense of free speech (especially “petitioning for redress of grievances”) And as I’ll get to in a moment, depending on how they’re articulated likely incredibly logically defensible too!
Let’s go back to the article for a minute.
Between the [hate] mail, being suspended pending a Board of Curators investigation and a campaign by Missouri lawmakers to have her fired, Click has suffered enough, [her friend] Huntemann said.
Wait, wait wait just a second. The hate mail and the investigation aren’t even remotely on the same level here. Just like above there’s an attempt to conflate them to generate an emotional and sympathetic response from the reader. The writer wants us to think of all these things exactly the same. Hate mail, investigations and firing campaigns, all vicious attacks. (Never mind that the 2nd is going through due process, and the 3rd is simply speech.)
In a previous tweet I had called this a “puff piece.” And I stand by that. This may have well been written by her PR firm as a way of trying to stir up pity for her. It’s deeply dishonest. I said before that these arguments were logically defensible, so let’s make them:
I actually don’t think Ms. Click should go to jail. She did commit a crime (namely a low degree assault on a student.) But jail doesn’t match with the usual punishment. Probation, community service, a fine, something of that nature. But if you think this crime should be a jailable offense it’s not that hard of a leap to argue for her jailing.
The idea that she should be fired isn’t outrageous or offensive or making her “suffer.” It’s a natural conclusion to what we’ve seen. Given now the two instances on tape of Ms. Click frankly losing her shit at confrontation, does she have the demeanor to run a classroom? Evidence says: “no.”
But more importantly, can she be trusted to give a fair hearing (and fair grading) to contrary opinions? As an instructor I pride myself on being able to set aside my personal opinions and grade the students on the content and strength of their arguments (based on the rubrics I’ve given them) even in the face of students with whom I have considerable disagreement. I simply cannot place my faith in the idea at Ms. Click is capable of doing that, making her a risk academic discourse and the purpose of the academy (the free flow of ideas.)
I say this as someone who has had professors attempt to fail them for the “crime” of merely disagreeing with them. They didn’t try to fail me because of my arguments, merely because I reached a conclusion they could not bring themselves to consider. I see that same taint in Ms. Click, and her (now shown to be repetitive) actions.
So yes, she should be fired, because she simply cannot be trusted to faithfully execute her role as an academic. Conflating calls for this with death threats is simply narrative abuse!
And if that confuses you Columbia Missourian, then that’s your problem, not mine.