An award-winning novelist and professor at Fresno State University is under investigation after tweeting about Barbara Bush shortly after the former First Lady's death this week. The professor, Randa Jarrar, has since made her Twitter account private, but the offending tweet read: “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal."
Bush fans on Twitter were not pleased. Jarrar, the author of Him, Me, Muhammad Ali, was swiftly dragged for her comment. "Don't worry, you fat pig," said a typical response. "Nobody will have any kind words to say about you when obesity or high blood pressure takes your sad, lonely soul away from us. Hopefully for your sake, they get to you before your cats feast on you for too long." Many others noted Jarrar's Muslim identity, called her a terrorist, and demanded she be fired from Fresno State.
As Jarrar noted on Twitter, however, she's tenured, which makes her very difficult to fire. But that doesn't mean she's entirely safe. "A professor with tenure does not have blanket protection to say and do what they wish," university president Joseph Castro told the Fresno Bee. "We are all held accountable for our actions."
At a press conference Wednesday, when asked by a reporter if Jarrar's tenure protects her, university provost Lynnette Zelezny said that the university is investigating the incident. She also noted, however, that Jarrar is a union member, which also makes any potential disciplinary action more difficult.
Still, Jarrar, who told The Stranger that she has been on medical leave from the University since March 1, is protected under the First Amendment, according Abre Conner, an ACLU attorney. “If Fresno State administrators are reviewing her based on this political speech, that is troubling,” he told the Associated Press.
The Foundation for Rights in Education has also come out in support of Jarrar. "Jarrar spoke on her personal Twitter account about a matter of public interest. That her speech offended some or many is not a lawful basis to penalize its expression. Speech cannot be restricted because of its offensive nature," wrote attorney Adam Steinbaugh for FIRE. "Similarly, a public university cannot punish such expression because it led to a deluge of complaints or angry correspondence directed at the school."
Barbara Bush, who died at the age of 92 on Monday, was memorialized in the press as a strong, frank, and no-nonsense woman who was greatly devoted to her family (even the dumb son). President Obama, in a statement, said she had “humility and decency that reflects the very best of the American spirit.”
But, as many commentators have pointed out, Bush also had a history of insensitivity, especially towards people of color. After Hurricane Katrina, she said that refugees living in the Houston Astrodome were "underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them." She also defended Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas after allegations of sexual harassment, and, during the Iraq War, which her son began based on faulty intelligence, she said on Good Morning America, "Why should we hear about body bags, and deaths, and how many, what day it’s gonna happen, and how many this or what do you suppose? Or, I mean, it’s, it’s not relevant. So, why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" That war is still ongoing 15 years later, has killed an estimated half-million Iraqis, and led to the emergence of ISIS.
Jarrar, according to her university bio, "grew up in Kuwait and Egypt, and she moved to the U.S. after the Gulf War," which Barbara Bush's husband, the slightly less idiotic Bush, oversaw.
This is not the first time free speech has been an issue at Fresno State. Last year, another instructor, Lars Maischak, was reassigned to non-teaching duties after he tweeted, “To save American democracy, Trump must hang.”