Fresno State president: The Bush-hating professor's comments are protected by the First Amendment

An inevitable conclusion given the applicable law. I’m glad about the result just because I think political activists are wa-a-a-ay too eager nowadays to punish thoughtcrimes with sanctions as draconian as taking away an offender’s gainful employment. Laura Ingraham was a jerk by goofing on David Hogg for his college rejections, Randa Jarrar was an exceptionally nasty jerk in turning cartwheels on Twitter over the death of Barbara Bush, but I’m reluctant to see anyone fired for something as vulgar, in every sense of the word, as spiteful jackassery.

I’m also under no illusions, though, that Jarrar’s reprieve will lead anyone on the left to rethink the Ingraham boycott or the reception conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro or Ann Coulter tend to get on college campuses. If you’re of the school that the only way to force that rethink is to give the left a hard dose of its own medicine — fire with fire, until the pain from the burn makes them recoil — then this is a setback for you, assuredly.

And there are many of that school.

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.

The First Amendment spared the school from a potentially tough decision here. Because they’re a public university, they can point to Jarrar’s speech rights, shrug, and put this to bed before she becomes an academic cause celebre. If they were a private university, they’d have a hard decision to make about whether to go forward with this.

Presumably they would have fallen back on tenure in that case and said something solemn about how the institution exists for precisely this situation, to protect teachers who tell hard truths from pressure by the masses who may not want to hear them. But that’s not really true. Tenure ideally protects scholarship from popular pressure, not social-media trolling. If Jarrar were, say, conducting a statistical study of how many Iraqis were killed after the U.S. invasion and was taking flack from the government and the public because they didn’t want to face the ugly reality, that would be a paradigm case of the value of tenure. Spewing Twitter-puke about wanting to drink George W. Bush’s tears after his mother died doesn’t increase the sum of human knowledge in the same way, I dare say. Left-wing academics are usually quick to dissect how their enemies’ “principles” are little more than highfalutin conceptual cover for self-interest, whether in terms of “white privilege” or bourgeois entitlement or what have you. Their rhetorical wanking over the glories of tenure during this low-rent episode is an example of them cloaking their own self-interest in something nobler, though, insulating themselves from the consequences of petty political trash talk that virtually every other employee in America has to grapple with.

One other obvious question. Why didn’t Fresno State’s president address Jarrar’s pranking of a student crisis hotline at Arizona State in the aftermath of her Twitter episode? The school could have built a disciplinary case over that to appease critics with Jarrar left squirming in trying to mount a defense. What could she have said? “Mental health isn’t that important”?

In case your son or daughter is thinking of attending Fresno State, here’s a taste of the important scholarship and abiding respect for the free exchange of ideas to which they’ll be exposed by Randa Jarrar.