Fresno State community forum on Randa Jarrar controversy draws angry speakers

Inappropriate, disgraceful – and protected.

That’s how Fresno State president Joseph Castro characterized Randa Jarrar’s tweets in an open-mic forum at the Save Mart Center that drew approximately 250 people Thursday night.

“Not a good man” – and worse – is how some who attended characterized Castro for not taking harsh action against Jarrar.

The event was the second of two forums Fresno State held to address the firestorm Jarrar created when she tweeted about Barbara Bush hours after the former first lady died. The first forum took place Wednesday morning and was open only to campus members.

In her tweets, Jarrar called Bush an “amazing racist” and said she was “happy the witch is dead.” After angry responses began to pour in, Jarrar claimed she could never be fired because of her tenured status, and directed people to call a phone number that turned out to be a mental health crisis hotline run by Arizona State University.

Castro announced last week that the university would not discipline the professor, who has been on leave this semester.

“We have consulted at length with our counsel,” Castro said at Thursday’s forum. “We have no justification to undertake disciplinary action.”

Although Thursday’s crowd did not come close to filling the 3,000 seats available, the audience was vocal in cheering for speakers who criticized Jarrar, as well as those who praised Fresno State as an institution. The crowd booed Castro, however, when he said Arizona State’s hotline was not so overwhelmed that callers could not get help. Many speakers mentioned that tweet in discussing their outrage about Jarrar.

The event took an angry turn halfway through the evening, with speakers calling the university’s response “pathetic.”

When one speaker told him that he had failed to be “a good man,” Castro asked him whether he was supposed to break the law to fire Jarrar.

Another speaker who identified himself as a farmer and Fresno State parent had his mic cut after calling Castro “a pompous ass.”

Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau said he would like an explanation of Fresno State’s hiring process.

“She advocates violence and there’s an element of racism in there,” he said. “If that’s not hate speech I don’t know what’s hate speech.”

Brandau suggested Fresno State have Jarrar teach to an empty classroom next semester.

Kelly Kirschner, who identified herself as the wife of a farmer, praised Castro for being willing to stand in front of the crowd, but said that she and her family could not support the university or its athletic program any longer.

Other speakers praised the university’s defense of the First Amendment, especially given a potential lawsuit that could follow her termination.

Tom Holyoke, chair of the academic senate, said a campus social media policy is forthcoming, and could affect faculty and the student body.

“We have been trying to come up with best practices for social media,” he said. “Perhaps they should have already been in place.”

Aleksandra Appleton: 559-341-3747

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