.You will have heard, most likely, of Randa Jarrar, a professor of English at Fresno State University. Her Twitter account is locked at the moment, but this is what brought her to infamy this week:
Randa Jarrar is a terrible person, repulsive in every way. Damon Linker gives a bit more information about the Jarrar case:
For readers who don’t follow the online political outrage machine: Jarrar took to Twitter shortly after the death of former first lady Barbara Bush to denounce her and the Bush family in vicious and vulgar terms. “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist,” she said in one tweet. “I’m happy the witch is dead,” she said in another. Her tweets quickly went viral — the original ones as well as follow-ups in which she bragged about her six-figure salary and invulnerability as a tenured professor, taunted the president of her university (Joseph Castro), and posted a phone number that was ostensibly her own but turned out to be the number of a crisis hotline that was soon overwhelmed with calls from people irate about her provocations and clamoring for her to be fired. Within 24 hours, Castro had announced that Jarrar would be investigated, and indicated that she could well lose her job after all.
I saw the Jarrar tweets when they first appeared, and decided that I didn’t want to dignify them by posting them. I know, right? Shocking for me to resist the opportunity to indulge in Dreherbait. But I did, because what Jarrar said was so beyond the pale of decency. However, her case has become a test of free speech principles.
My basic stance is that as deplorable as she is — listen to her various rants for more — protecting free speech means enduring speech you despise. I think Jarrar ought to be condemned — but not lose her job. Those calling for her firing over her insults to the Bush family are wrong (and note well than many conservatives and libertarians have spoken out against firing her). If the university wanted to can her for that prank to the crisis hotline, that would seem just to me. But not for her vile speech.
On the other hand, what if she had taken to Twitter to post anti-Semitic or otherwise racist statements? What if Jarrar were a thin right-wing white male who took to Twitter to dance on Ted Kennedy’s grave? Keep in mind that she did not say these things in a classroom.
Damon Linker points out that the president and board of trustees of Fresno State have a responsibility to protect freedom of expression, but they also have the responsibility to protect the university’s reputation. While Fresno State doesn’t have to worry as much about suffering from legislators punishing it, California being a very left-wing state, this is a needless provocation. The fact that Jarrar taunted her employer, saying she couldn’t be fired because of tenure, makes her a poster child for obscene academic arrogance. There are countless men and women who hold advanced degrees yet cannot find stable work in the academy — and this arrogant troll uses her extreme privilege to spite everyone.
She is not a sympathetic character.
Linker points out something true and important:
Is there any employer in any industry in the United States that would not treat an outburst like Jarrar’s as a fireable offense? The answer, I think, is no. If anything, norms against employees engaging in offensive speech have become stricter in recent years, with many insisting that public statements that demonize any person or group be punished swiftly and severely, the better to send a stern message about the importance of treating bigotry and hatred of any kind as intolerable.
Those saying that Jarrar should keep her job therefore seem to be defending the view that professors should have employment protections, even outside of the classroom and their specialized areas of academic research, that pretty much no one else in the country enjoys.
My job here at TAC involves opinion writing. I have been paid for most of my career to state my opinion. Yet no employer of mine — no newspaper, no magazine — would keep me on if I tweeted something as vile as what Jarrar tweeted. It would be devastating to the institutional reputation of these newspapers and magazines. TAC would lose donors left and right, and would take a real hit in terms of its credibility. Any magazine or publication would. I would never abuse the privilege I have. With that privilege comes responsibility.
So, today, I am much less sympathetic to Randa Jarrar than I was when she first spouted off. I still lean towards not firing her. But boy, is she ever a poster child for left-wing academic privilege and arrogance. If the university president fires her for pranking the crisis hotline, I won’t be sorry.