Fresno State news conference about professor’s Barbara Bush ‘racist’ tweet
A Fresno State professor called former first lady Barbara Bush an “amazing racist” who raised a “war criminal,” and expressed no concern that she could be fired or reprimanded for her outspokenness on social media.
Randa Jarrar, a professor in Fresno State’s Department of English, expressed her displeasure with the Bush family within an hour after the official announcement that Mrs. Bush died Tuesday at the age of 92.
“Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal,” Jarrar wrote on Twitter. “F--- outta here with your nice words.”
Jarrar’s tweet generated more than 2,000 replies back to her, with many upset at her and tagging Fresno State and University President Joseph Castro in their comments.
Jarrar, who in her Twitter messages describes herself as an Arab-American and a Muslim-American woman, goes on to maintain that she is a tenured professor and makes $100,000 a year.
“I will never be fired,” Jarrar tweeted.
In a separate tweet, she wrote: “If you'd like to know what it's like to be an Arab American Muslim American woman with some clout online expressing an opinion, look at the racists going crazy in my mentions right now.”
Jarrar even encouraged those of Twitter to reach out to Fresno State and to Castro, offering up their Twitter handles.
“What I love about being an American professor is my right to free speech, and what I love about Fresno State is that I always feel protected and at home here,” Jarrar wrote. “GO BULLDOGS!”
By around 10:21 p.m., Jarrar made her Twitter account private. The Fresno Bee took screen shots of her tweets when the account was public.
Jarrar also changed her Twitter bio, removing the titles of her books and instead writing, "Currently on leave from Fresno State. This is my private account and represents my opinions."
The university confirmed Jarrar has been on leave all semester.
On Amazon, negative reviews for her books began to appear, apparently in reaction to her tweets.
Fresno State, roughly three hours after Jarrar’s initial tweet about Bush, sent out a statement by Castro that addressed the outspoken professor.
“On behalf of Fresno State, I extend my deepest condolences to the Bush family on the loss of our former First Lady, Barbara Bush,” Castro says in the statement. “We share the deep concerns expressed by others over the personal comments made today by professor Randa Jarrar, a professor in the English department at Fresno State.
“Her statements were made as a private citizen, not as a representative at Fresno State.”
Castro also added: “Professor Jarrar’s expressed personal views and commentary 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."
The university is still looking into the matter, according to spokeswoman Patti Waid.
Messages left with Jarrar were not immediately returned.
In a statement, an official from a civil liberties organization that specializes in campus free speech defended Jarrar's right to express herself.
"Fresno State correctly acknowledges that Jarrar's tweets were made as a private citizen," said Adam Steinbaugh, senior program officer for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "As such, and because they touched upon a matter of public concern, Jarrar's tweets are unquestionably protected speech under the First Amendment and Fresno State has no power to censor, punish or terminate Jarrar for them."
According to Jarrar's bio on the Fresno State's website, Jarrar is an award-winning novelist, short story writer, essayist, and translator. She grew up in Kuwait and Egypt, and she moved to the U.S. after the Gulf War.
She received the 2014 Lannan Residency Program fellowship award, which is given for excellence in poetry writing, essays and scholarly articles as well as social justice activism.
One person who responded to Jarrar tagged U.S. Homeland Security and noted that the professor lives in Fresno.
To which Jarrar tweeted back: “LOL. @DHSgov has been watching me for like 25 years, bro. Our kids grew up together. But nice try.”
Jarrar was active on Twitter for at least five hours Tuesday, responding to some critics, retweeting others who also were critical of the Bush family and taunting those who attacked her physical appearance.
She also provided a telephone number as if it was her contact number. But the listed number ended up going to a suicide/crisis line.
A handful of Twitter users tweeted messages of support as the negative comments were pouring in.
Jasmine Leiva, a Fresno State graduate, called Jarrar "a gem" and said Fresno State was "lucky to have her."
"She cares about her students, is wildly talented, and told no lies," Leiva wrote.