AAUP Issues Investigative Report on University of Missouri Melissa Click Case

Washington, DC—Today, the AAUP issued an investigative report concerning the action taken on February 25, 2016, by the board of curators of the University of Missouri system to dismiss Professor Melissa A. Click, an assistant professor of communication, from the faculty of the University of Missouri (MU). Professor Click was dismissed on charges of misconduct without being provided the faculty hearing called for under both the university’s regulations and the AAUP’s recommended standards.

The investigating committee visited Columbia, Missouri, on March 22 and 23 to meet with administrators, faculty leaders, and Professor Click. In accordance with Association procedures, the investigating committee submitted its draft report to the principal parties with an invitation for comment and corrections of fact. Comments received were taken into account in preparing the final version of the report.

The report concludes:

• While the investigating committee cannot exclude the possibility that a review of the case by a representative faculty body might have produced a result similar to that reached by the curators, the committee is not convinced that Professor Click’s actions, even when viewed in the most unfavorable light, were adequate grounds for her dismissal. The AAUP maintains that adequate grounds for dismissal must be related, directly and substantially, to the fitness of faculty members in their professional capacities as teachers or researchers.

• By denying Professor Click an adjudicative hearing of record before a duly constituted faculty body, the board of curators violated basic principles of academic due process. These principles exist for the purpose of safeguarding academic freedom, and thus, the board of curators’ action set a dangerous precedent that threatens the academic freedom of all faculty members at the University of Missouri.

• In terminating the appointment of Professor Click, effective immediately following the denial of her appeal, the board of curators violated widely accepted principles of academic due process, which require that, in cases of dismissal for cause not involving moral turpitude, a full-time faculty member with more than eighteen months of service will receive salary or notice of at least one year.

• The board of curators’ unilateral action usurped the traditional role and authority of both the faculty and campus administrators under principles of shared governance and thus failed to adhere to the guidance in the AAUP’s Statement on Government of Colleges and Universities that governing boards should “undertake appropriate self-limitation.”

• While there is no definitive evidence that the board of curators did not act upon its stated motives, there is reason to suspect that grounds other than Professor Click’s actions were the real cause of her dismissal. By threatening budgetary and other consequences and openly demanding the summary dismissal of a faculty member, members of the Missouri legislature exerted undue political interference in the case of Professor Click, and the threat of such illegitimate interference continues.

• In light of the board’s action against Professor Click and in the context of legislative threats to the institution and unresolved administrative turmoil, academic freedom and shared governance at MU are endangered.

From 1973 to 1980, the University of Missouri was on the AAUP’s list of censured administrations. As a result of the MU administration’s successful efforts to remove the censure (accomplished in 1980), the university’s faculty dismissal policies—disregarded by the curators in Professor Click’s case—closely adhere to AAUP-recommended standards.

At its June 3–4 meeting, the AAUP’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure will decide whether to recommend that the Association censure the MU administration. Censure can be imposed only by vote of delegates to the annual meeting, which occurs this year on June 18.

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The mission of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post‐doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education's contribution to the common good. Founded in 1915, the AAUP has helped to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country's colleges and universities.

Media Contact: 
Hans-Joerg Tiede – 202-594-3646 / jtiede@aaup.org
Publication Date: 
Thursday, May 19, 2016