Atop Fresno State President Joseph Castro’s Facebook page is a photo carrying a message chiseled in granite: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Castro and the university will be measured in a big way this week during two forums to discuss the free speech controversy revolving around English professor Randa Jarrar.
While the Jarrar case at Fresno State is officially settled – she will not be fired for her harsh words about former first lady Barbara Bush – the campus and the community are decidedly unsettled.
As a recap, within an hour after the official announcement that Mrs. Bush died at the age of 92, Jarrar took to social media to call Bush an “amazing racist” who raised a “war criminal.” Jarrar also expressed no concern that she could be fired or reprimanded for her outspokenness. She made the comments from her personal social media account while on leave from the university.
Castro said the decision, reached after consultation with counsel, was made because 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. It 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.”
Castro’s tone throughout this ordeal has been impressively thoughtful, resolute and rational. He has answered the call of leadership and should use this week’s forums to promote a respectful exchange of ideas.
But this is not entirely Castro’s burden to bear.
Universities are inherently complex organizations with an amalgam of opinions and constituencies. Free-thinking residents of the central San Joaquin Valley must not let the tweets of a single professor slow the rising trajectory of Fresno State, which, under Castro’s strong leadership, has grown as a beacon of upward mobility for thousands of students – many of whom are the first in their families to pursue higher education.
Castro is clear in his messaging that the university stands for robust dialogue. Let the community stand just as strong in its remarks as well.
The unrelenting personal threats, attacks and rage – with some people even threatening harm or promising to punish students who had no role in the controversy – are pitiful.
Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado, editor in chief of The Collegian, which produces multimedia student news, tweeted this message over the weekend:
“One day after we asked readers to #SaveStudentNewsrooms, an older reader who considered donating a couple thousand dollars to The Collegian withdrew his support in a written note. He cited the recent prof controversy as why. We had a respectful chat before he left our office.”
But it doesn’t stop with innocent students, who should not be made to shoulder the blame. It extends even to the president’s family.
On Friday, Castro’s wife, Mary, posted a Facebook message, “Thank you to those of you who have offered prayers and support. My energy and service will continue to be focused on showing love, respect and faith in the students.
“My passion has not been diminished by recent negative attacks. They have been brutal. Growing up on a farm developed my pride and devotion to this area. My heart will not be swayed. #BeLove #BlessedToServe .”
It’s a gut-check time for all of us. Where will this community and region stand at a time of challenge and controversy for one of its most beloved institutions?
Fresno State’s mission is too important to be derailed by one professor’s tweets. Now, more than at any football or basketball game, true Red Wave fans of Fresno State need to rally to support the university and move it onward from the controversy. If you were thinking about enrolling, by all means do so. If you were going to make a donation, keep to that decision. Fresno State will endure, and we will all be the better for it.