Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro announced Tuesday that the university is ending an investigation into a professor’s fiery tweets about former First Lady Barbara Bush.
English professor Randa Jarrar angered many people online one week ago after she made disparaging remarks against Bush just an hour after she had died, calling her an “amazing racist” who had raised a “war criminal.”
She repeatedly responded to critics that she wouldn’t be fired for her comments because she had tenure and was afforded rights as a university professor. She also mentioned her salary on several occasions when critics denounced her comments.
The conclusion not to discipline Jarrar for those actions came just one week after the tweets were sent out and just one day before a deadline set by several civil rights groups that called for the university to drop the investigation.
In the announcement, Castro said Jarrar did not violate any university or California State University policies when she tweeted the comments against Bush, including that she couldn’t wait for the rest of the Bush family to “fall to their demise” like 1.5 million Iraqis.
On Tuesday, The Cut reported that Jarrar had responded to an email requesting a comment on the Twitter controversy. Jarrar told the publication that she “felt compelled to speak up because I want people to remember history.”
She continued: “I want people to know that our country’s actions don’t just disappear; they have real, negative consequences. If we want a better future, we have to confront our past.”
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education partnered with several other civil rights groups in the country to persuade Castro that investigating Jarrar would be counterproductive and would only reward those who had complaints over the professor’s comments.
In their April 19 letter, the civil rights groups said Jarrar’s expression is protected by the U.S. and California constitutions.
“The principle of freedom of speech does not exist to protect only noncontroversial expression; it exists to protect speech that some or even most members of a community may find controversial or offensive,” the letter read.
The civil rights groups also said that Fresno State could not base an investigation on the fact that Jarrar posted a phone number to a crisis hotline at Arizona State University and passed it as her own, although it angered some on social media.
“Even assuming Jarrar’s tweets caused a substantial disruption somewhere else, that disruption does not impact Fresno State’s interest as an employer,” the civil rights groups said.
The rights groups expected Castro to say by Wednesday that the university would not investigate Jarrar or other faculty for their speech. They accused the university of attempting to initiate an investigation simply to calm the anger of those who criticized the university after Jarrar made her comments on Twitter.
In the announcement where he said Fresno State would not seek punishment for Jarrar, Castro called Jarrar’s comments “embarrassing” and “disgraceful” and said he expects university representatives to engage in respectful dialogue.
“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,” Castro said. “Therefore, the university does not have justification to support taking any disciplinary action.”
The decision by the university to not discipline Jarrar didn’t come as a surprise to many students. Several of them responded to The Collegian’s Facebook page and said Jarrar’s speech was not necessarily a fireable offense in the first place. But there were students who suggested that Jarrar’s remarks reflect badly on the university.
Jarrar will remain on a leave of absence that she had arranged before the controversy. A Change.org petition to have her fired from the university had raised more than 45,000 signatures as of Tuesday and was still collecting signatures as the university released its announcement.
Castro said, although there will be no official disciplinary action against Jarrar, her comments do raise questions about how academics at the university should conduct themselves. Castro said those discussions will be held following this incident.