A tenured Fresno State professor who posted a tweetstorm celebrating the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush in mid April shuttered her Twitter account saying, she’s “on leave” from the college. That has since been removed to read simply, “This is my private account and represents my opinions.”
Randa Jarrar is a tenured English professor at Fresno State, which means her post as an professor at the college known for “Discovery, Diversity, Distinction’ is a permanent one. And following a university investigation, will remain so.
Jarrar, 39, born in the U.S. was raised in Kuwait and then returned to America as a teenager in 1991. She’d go on to earn numerous degrees and became a distinguished, if controversial, writer and outspoken critic of American policy in the Middle East and immigration and frequently and audibly denounced racism, sexism and imperialism.
A day later, the Fresno Bee reported university president Joseph Castro said just because a professor has tenure does not mean s/he has “blanket protection to say and do what they wish. We are all held accountable for our actions.”
Castro then said “next steps for the university include reviewing all the facts, as well as the faculty’s collective bargaining agreement. college said it was launching an investigation into the matter.”
Nince days later, the investigation is completed and Castro said “Jarrar did not violate any CSU or university policies and that she was acting in a private capacity and speaking about a public matter on her personal Twitter account. Her comments, although disgraceful, are protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Additionally, although Professor Jarrar used tenure to defend her behavior, this private action is an issue of free speech and not related to her job or tenure. Therefore, the university does not have justification to support taking any disciplinary action.”
Free speech advocates praised the result.
“Americans may face a variety of social consequences for making political statements that others find offensive or upsetting,” said Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “But official punishment by an agency of the government like Fresno State is not, and must not become, one of those consequences, regardless of the views being expressed.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Fresno English Professor Celebrated the Death of Barbara Bush on Twitter
Randa Jarrar began tweeting shortly after the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush was announced Tuesday night. The college professor did not hold back in her tweets which sparked outrage.
On her website, she wrote, “I do not respond to tweets about Barbara Bush,’ which appears to have been a Tweet from 2016. She added, “My new reaction gif for trolls.” But access to the original Twitter pic is no longer available, at least during a general search.
“Barbara Bush was a generous, and smart, and amazing racist, who along with her husband raised a war criminal. F*ck outta here with your nice words.’
2. The Backlash & Criticism Was Immediate, With Calls For Her to be Fired From the College
Criticism came swiftly and her words called hate speech.
And many were angered when she tweeted out a telephone number which caused concerns in the medical community and elsewhere.
A physician responded, “Your freedom of speech does not entitle you to have all these people spam an actual mental health crisis line. Please stop.”
3. Jarrar Said She’s a Tenured Professor & Cannot be Fired. Her Twitter Account Wednesday Morning Read She Was ‘On Leave’
The repercussions of her statements, despite Jarrar asserting that she could speak freely with fear of reprisal due to her stature as a tenured professor, may result in her no longer being with the college. Or at least based on her own ‘about’ on Twitter, not set to private, says she’s “on leave.”
There were no shortage of people demanding she be fired across social media platforms.
Jarrar is a widely published writer, translator and academic who has not shied away from being candid about, and criticizing, US foreign policy, especially the invasion of Iraq under President George W. Bush, the first Gulf War waged during the George H. W. Bush administration, and Imperialism generally.
The YouTube video below was removed from the video-sharing site, returned and again, it appears, has been removed.
4. Fresno State Addressed the Tweets in its Own Statement on Twitter & Free Speech Advocates Also Speak Out
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro said that her comments were not reflective of the university’s values those made of a private citizen and not.
‘Professor Jarrar’s expressed personal views and commentary are obviously contrary to the core values of our University, which include respect and empathy for individuals with divergent points of view, and a sincere commitment to mutual understanding and progress,” Castro said in the statement.
Adam Steinbaugh, program officer for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), “a national civil liberties nonprofit dedicated to protecting student and faculty expression,” said, “Fresno State correctly acknowledges that Jarrar’s tweets were made as a private citizen. As such, and because they touched upon a matter of public concern, Jarrar’s tweets are unquestionably protected speech under the First Amendment and Fresno State has no power to censor, punish, or terminate Jarrar for them.”
Steinbaugh wrote, “It’s often said that the First Amendment doesn’t protect a speaker from the consequences of his words. That’s true to a certain extent. One who says something that offends others will often face consequences of some sort, whether it’s caustic criticism from people he offended, loss of private sector job opportunities, loss of membership in voluntary associations, and so on. But the First Amendment places limits on what consequences a government actor may impose in response to speech.”
Wednesday Jarrar set her personal Instagram to private and posted that she is “Currently officially on leave from Fresno State.”
On Thursday, FIRE said it “joined with other free speech advocacy groups to call on Fresno State President Joseph Castro to end the investigation against professor Randa Jarrar for her tweets about Barbara Bush.
A letter from Steinbaugh co-signed with the ACLU of Northern California, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and others, reads in part, “in launching its investigation into Jarrar’s plainly protected speech, Fresno State places itself at odds with the First Amendment and the very principles of higher education.”
5. Jarrar is an Award-Winning Author Born in America But Raised in the Middle East
Jarrar is a celebrated writer. Born in Chicago in 1978 to an Egyptian-Greek mother and Palestinian father, Jarra was raised in Kuwait and returned to the U.S. shortly after the first Gulf War in 1991. She studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College, and earned her Master’s of Arts degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin, and a Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan.
According to her website, Jarrar’s works includes novels, short stories and essays. Her books ‘A Map of Home,’ and ‘Him, Me, Muhammad Ali’ are both award winners. The latter described by the LA Times as “This collection is not flowery or sentimental, like many personal stories about the immigrant experience or Middle Eastern family life can be. It’s instead sharp and irreverent, sometimes even unapologetically crude.”
Jarra has contributed work to Buzzfeed, ‘Being A Bad Muslim Helped Me Get Out Of A Bad Marriage.’
“Adultery was the last Muslim taboo I hadn’t broken. When I finally did cheat, it helped me see that my marriage needed to end.”
Jarra is a featured writer in the October 2017 book ‘Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America.’
According to her faculty page in the Fresno State website, Jarrar has received fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Hedgebrook, and Eastern Frontier, and in 2010 she was named one of the most gifted writers of Arab origin under the age of 40. She is the executive director of RAWI, the Radius of Arab American Writers.
In a feature article about Jarrar, she explained, “None of my characters are rooted to a particular place, and that makes all of them marginalized, outsiders, or outcasts.”
“That’s what makes for good writing,” she said. “When you write from the point of view of someone who is not inside the norm.”