Controversial Fresno State creative writing professor Randa Jarrar won’t be disciplined for tweets made following the death of first lady Barbara Bush, university President Joe Castro announced in a letter posted on social media Tuesday.
“Professor Jarrar’s conduct was insensitive, inappropriate and an embarrassment to the university. I know her comments have angered many in our community and impacted our students,” Castro wrote. “Her comments, although disgraceful, are protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
Castro also said that “Professor Jarrar will remain on leave through the Spring semester, which she had previously requested before this incident.”
Jarrar wrote in her first tweet inside of an hour of Bush’s death last week: “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who along with her husband, raised a war criminal.”
She continued the Twitter barrage for five hours, at times taunting those responding to her.
She also said she was “happy the witch is dead” and couldn’t wait for the rest of the Bush family to meet their demise. In addition, she represented the student crisis hotline at Arizona State as being her personal phone number. USA Today reported that the hotline received “a massive number of calls” for two days as a result.
Change.org Petition Seeks Jarrar’s Firing
As of 6:55 p.m. PDT on Tuesday, a Change.org petition calling for Jarrar’s immediate termination was less than 180 signatures short of its 50,000 goal.
The Fresno Bee reported April 19 that Jarrar’s “Twitter outburst following the death of former first lady Barbara Bush has some donors rethinking their financial support for the Valley’s largest university.” However, The Bee noted, other donors remained committed to supporting Fresno State.
Jarrar Defends Herself Via Email
Tuesday morning, Jarrar, who reportedly is out of the country, defended her remarks. In an email to The Cut, Jarrar talked about why she put her opinions about Barbara Bush on full blast.
“I felt compelled to speak up because I want people to remember history. I want people to know that our country’s actions don’t just disappear; they have real, negative consequences,” she said in the email. “If we want a better future, we have to confront our past.
“The Bush family — including Barbara Bush — supported policies that harmed and destroyed the lives of millions.”
Castro’s Statement on Jarrar
Here is Castro’s complete letter:
Dear Campus Community,
I write to provide an update regarding the university’s review of comments made last week by Professor Randa Jarrar, following the passing of former First Lady Barbara Bush. This issue has raised many important questions about the scope of free speech and the extent to which a member of our university community can be held accountable for expressing his or her personal views.
Fresno State President Joe Castro
Professor Jarrar’s conduct was insensitive, inappropriate and an embarrassment to the university. I know her comments have angered many in our community and impacted our students. Let me be clear, on campus and whenever we are representing the university, I expect all of us to engage in respectful dialogue.
Immediately following Professor Jarrar’s tweets last Tuesday, we carefully reviewed the facts and consulted with CSU counsel to determine whether we could take disciplinary action. After completing this process, we have concluded that Professor 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. Professor Jarrar will remain on leave through the Spring semester, which she had previously requested before this incident. This matter has highlighted some important issues that deserve further consultation with our academic leadership.
Our duty as Americans and as educators is to promote a free exchange of diverse views, even if we disagree with them. At Fresno State, we encourage opinions and ideas to be expressed in a manner that informs, enlightens and educates without being disparaging of others. It makes me proud when I see our students, faculty and staff debate and learn from each other. This is how we boldly educate and empower our students to succeed.
I want to thank all of you for sharing your views and opinions. By doing so, you demonstrate care for our university and commitment to our students’ success.
Joseph I. Castro, Ph.D., M.P.P.