Campus Free Speech

Fresno State Shouldn't Fire a Professor for Saying She's Glad Barbara Bush Died

Randa Jarrar reveals hypocrisy on the right.


Sthanlee Mirador/Sipa USA/Newscom

In response to death of former First Lady Barbara Bush, a professor of English at Fresno State University tweeted, "I'm happy the witch is dead." Now a whole lot of people—including some occasional critics of political-correctness-run-amok on campus—think the university should fire her.

The professor, Randa Jarrar, made the comments shortly after Bush's death at the age of 92. "Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal," wrote Jarrar. "Fuck outta here with your nice words." She later said she was "happy" Bush had died and couldn't wait for the rest of her family to "fall to their demise the way 1.5 million Iraqis have."

Obviously, that's a loathsome thing to say. You can express opposition to the Iraq war without literally celebrating somebody's death.

Nevertheless, Jarrar's comments are constitutionally protected speech. Fresno State is a public university, and its professors enjoy broad free speech protections. Students, other professors, and the broader Twitter community should feel free to vocalize their disapproval of her comments, but Jarrar shouldn't lose her job or be formally sanctioned by Fresno officials.

Jarrar also posted a telephone number on Twitter, leading critics to believe it was hers. In reality, it was the line for Arizona State University's crisis hotline. This prank may present a stronger case for disciplinary action than the anti-Bush comment, though the latter is what everybody seems mad about.

Fresno President Joseph Castro said in a statement that Jarrar's comments were "made as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fresno State," and "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."

But this statement has not satisfied the many conservatives on Twitter who want Fresno to fire her. Disappointingly, The Daily Wire­—the conservative website run by Ben Shapiro—also seems to want something more from Fresno. The Daily Wire's Ryan Saavedra writes:

The key line in Fresno State's statement is: "Her statements were made as a private citizen, not as a representative of Fresno State." That line most likely signals that the university is not going to take a hard stand over the hateful remarks from this professor who mocked the death of an American icon and rejoiced in the suffering of her family.

I'm not sure what "hard stand" means, but since the university did in fact already denounce Jarrar's comment, I presume Saavedra wants something more: discipline, perhaps termination.

It is incredibly hypocritical for The Daily Wire to encourage a university to fire a professor for saying something nasty and politically incorrect. In the past, Shapiro has rightly called out universities for catering to easily offended students and disinviting controversial speakers. Shapiro himself has occasionally faced angry campus mobs who wish to censor him. But if the offending party is a far-left professor and the offended party is conservatives everywhere, PC censorship is suddenly just fine?

It's no wonder some liberals are skeptical of the so-called free speech crisis (a phenomenon I think is very real, even if it's sometimes overhyped). Too many conservatives act as if they're the only victims of campus censorship—and when someone on the left does something un-patriotic, they grab their own pitchforks.

UPDATE: Shapiro has now written a column defending Jarrar's free speech rights, and ought to be commended.