Free speech should promote discussion

A Mizzou professor deserves to lose her job after calling for some “muscle” at a protest on campus.

Jasper Johnson

Melissa Click, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Missouri, lost her job last week. Several months ago, an infamous video captured her calling for “some muscle” to carry away a student filming video at a pro-diversity protest on campus.
 
 
Some have tried to frame this as a free speech issue in which Click is the one being persecuted for her views. In my mind, they’ve got things backward. As a representative of Mizzou, Click tried to forcibly suppress a photojournalist on a public campus. She deserved to be fired for her actions. 
 
 
Click’s recent claim that she had thought the videographer whom she threatened with “muscle” might have had a gun was plainly a last-minute fabrication to get out of her sentence or save face — she only narrowly dodged prosecution for an assault charge in exchange for community service and a promise of good behavior.
 
 
Offering excuses for her actions, Click pointed to events on campus that left her emotionally charged. As I see it, the tensions taking place at Mizzou would have left anyone unsettled, but this doesn’t justify her reaction. 
 
 
Nor does Click’s reasoning explain why exactly she targeted a videographer. Perhaps she, like so many other people, thinks freedom of speech is some shapeless concept you can mold to suit your own views, one you can use to demonize others’ opinions as “hate speech.” 
 
 
I find her behavior to be inherently illiberal. It was particularly ironic considering that many of the groups pushing for media-free “safe spaces” would identify as reformist liberals. Yet I fail to see how forcing people out of certain public spaces align with free speech. 
 
 
Had the protests at Mizzou been politically conservative, I’m sure someone would have levied “hate speech” claims against them in an attempt to stop them from organizing.
 
 
Even here at the University of Minnesota, we’ve seen this double standard in requests to censor conservative activist Milo Yiannopoulos or fliers promoting discussion about the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
 
 
It’s painful for me to see people asymmetrically wielding concepts in free speech in order to advance partisan politics or to advocate certain worldviews over others. No one should manipulate the freedom of speech in any environment to suit a partisan agenda. 
 
 
The Mizzou protesters’ defense of a media-free “safe space” is a recent and bizarre spinoff of this manipulation. Rather than demanding censorship of opposing views, people now demand strategic insulation from media coverage in public protests. Obviously, this is not legal. 
 
 
Just as I find conservative, authoritarian restrictions on freedom of speech contemptible, I’m wary when I see restrictions on freedom of speech in the United States, especially when they come from the progressives with whom I identify. Click’s actions were emblematic of a new strain of censorship on campuses. Firing her was the right move.  
 
 
Jasper Johnson welcomes comments at [email protected].