The Fresno State professor who criticized Barbara Bush has commented publicly on her tweetstorm for the first time as a petition to fire her nears its goal of 35,000 signatures.
Randa Jarrar received a flood of criticism last week after she tweeted that former First Lady Barbara Bush was an "amazing racist" and that she was "happy the witch is dead."
Jarrar has not returned phone calls and emails from the Bee, but she did speak to The Cut, an offshoot of New York Magazine.
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In her interview, she said Fresno State has not contacted her about an investigation, and talked about why she chose to tweet.
"“I felt compelled to speak up because I want people to remember history. I want people to know that our country’s actions don’t just disappear; they have real, negative consequences,” she said. “If we want a better future, we have to confront our past.”
In response to the initial backlash about her tweets, Jarrar also referenced salary and tenure, saying that she could never be fired for her comments.
In her interview with The Cut, Jarrar said she was not gloating in her tweets.
“I would say that when a woman states any facts about her employment, she is usually met with charges of arrogance," she said.
President Joseph Castro said in an interview last week that "all options are on the table" in deciding how Fresno State will move forward.
The petition was started by Patrick Hofstetter from Illinois, with many signatures coming from outside of Fresno as well.
In town, the response to Jarrar has been varied, with members of the local literary community defending Jarrar's right to free speech, while Fresno State donors said that her comments are an embarrassment to the university.
Craig Bernthal, a professor in Fresno State's English department, said he doubts that Fresno State will be able to fire Jarrar.
A tenure agreement has standard requirements for teaching, publication and public service, Bernthal said, and once a professor has met those, it would take a crime to fire him or her.
"It's easy to be a radical if you're a tenured professor," Bernthal said.
Bernthal said the big question is whether one of Jarrar's subsequent tweets directing people to call a suicide hotline run by Arizona State University caused enough disruption to be considered a crime.
Bernthal also said he thinks most of his fellow faculty was appalled by Jarrar's comments, and while there are those on staff who privately agree with her, her comments don't reflect the university.
Free speech organizations like the ACLU and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have come to Jarrar's defense in the last week.
"In launching its investigation into Jarrar's plainly protected speech, Fresno State places itself at odds with the First Amendment and the very principles of higher education," a joint letter from the organizations read.