COLLEGE PRESIDENT: Professor’s vile tweets were free speech, did not violate school policy

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The president of Fresno State University says a professor, who sent vile tweets about former First Lady Barbara Bush following her death, will not be reprimanded, as he says she was exercising her right to free speech.

Last week, Professor Randa Jarrar, who teaches English at Fresno State, sent out a series of vile tweets celebrating the death of Mrs. Bush.

Prior to making her Twitter account private, Jarrar sent out the following tweets:

“Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal. F*** outta here with your nice words.”

“PSA: either you are against these pieces of s— and their genocidal ways or you’re part of the problem. That’s actually how simple this is. I’m happy the witch is dead. Can’t wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million Iraqis have.”

“All the hate I’m getting ALMOST made me forget how happy I am that George W Bush is probably really sad right now.”

In addition to the comments, she boasted about working as a tenured professor who makes $100,000 a year.

“I will never be fired,” Jarrar wrote. “I will always have people wanting to hear what I have to say.”

The professor also told social media users, if they wanted to reach her, to call a specific number (which we have redacted).

However, Dr. Eugene Gu, a resident physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, responded to her tweet stating, “Your freedom of speech does not entitle you to have all these people span an actual mental health crisis line. Please stop.”

The number did not belong to Jarrar, but is actually to a 24-hour crisis hotline at Arizona State University.

At the time of the tweets, Fresno State president Joseph I. Castro issued the following statement after backlash from social media users worldwide:

On behalf of Fresno State, I extend my deepest condolences to the Bush family on the loss of our former First Lady, Barbara Bush. We share deep concerns expressed by others over the personal comments made today by Professor Randa Jarrar, a professor in the English Department at Fresno State. 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.

However, on Tuesday, Castro penned an open letter detailing the review regarding Jarrar:

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.

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.

Sincerely,

Joseph I. Castro, Ph.D., M.P.P.

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