A Public Forum Is, You Know, Public

Mark Schierbecker is apparently working on becoming the least popular student at the University of Missouri.  And I am solidly in his corner.  Mark is a freelance videographer who contributes to the University of Missouri student newspaper.  

Mark was involved earlier this year in a confrontation with Professor Melissa Click, who called for “muscle” to get Mark forcibly removed from a meeting of student protestors that was taking place on a campus lawn at the public university.  Professor Click, a communications professor who really, really should have known better, has been subjected to almost universal public scorn for her display.   

More recently, Mark had an encounter with a group of black students that was not exactly pleasant.  The group had advertised a town hall meeting for “all Black Students and Students of Color.”  It was set for a Wednesday evening at the Campus Chapel.  Mark, who is not black, attended the meeting and ran his video camera.  A reporter from the Columbia Tribune was at the town hall as well, but he agreed to leave when asked to by one of the organizers.  

Mark declined the request to leave, noting that the event was being held at a public forum.  He remained calm and professional and kept his camera running.  He identified himself, asserted his rights and decided not to stop the camera, in part because someone at the event called the campus police.  The camera footage would potentially provide valuable evidence if Mark had been accused of any inappropriate conduct.   Although he was accused of violating the students’ privacy and enjoying white privilege, Mark stuck to his guns.  When it was clear that Mark would not leave, the town hall ended and the students decided to convene in a private location.  Which is their right.  

But it is no one’s right to arrange a meeting, invite the public (or at least a segment of it), convene at a public location and then assert a right to exclude members of the public or press who don’t meet the attendance criteria.  Mark handled himself exactly right.   And better than the “professional” journalist who baled.