Marek Warszawski

Jarrar storm will soon blow over. Low turnout, specious logic at public forum prove it

False equivalencies, utter lack of logic and hurt feelings. Each was on full display Thursday night as Fresno State held a public forum to hash out its latest professorial enfant terrible, Randa Jarrar.

And, boy, was it delicious fun.

First, a word about the turnout. Based on reaction to Jarrar's tweets and other videos that have since surfaced, university officials expected an angry mob. They sectioned off the Save Mart Center and made use of 3,000 seats.

Except only 257 people came through the turnstiles, about 300 fewer than attended a campus event for students and faculty the day before.

Fresno State surfed a tidal wave of angry tweets and fielded "tens of thousands" of phone calls over Jarrar (a university employee told me they were traced and the vast majority were from out of state). Yet when they set up a microphone and invited everyone to speak into it, directly into President Joseph Castro's grill, 257 people showed up.

"Bots have a hard time attending live events," one of my Twitter followers pointed out.

Although the speakers expressed several disparate views, all of them seemed to be in agreement that what Jarrar tweeted soon after the death of former first lady Barbara Bush was "100 percent inappropriate and disgraceful." That's how Castro put it. If Jarrar has any defenders out there — as I'm sure she does — none stood up to say so.

And, I'm pleased to report, everyone said they were in favor of free speech, even if some were a little vague on the concept. Hooray for that.

Still, it was hard to sit there and listen without wanting to gouge my ears and rip out what's left of my hair.

Several of the speakers, as well as a good portion of the audience, wanted Castro to fire Jarrar, a tenured English professor, for her tweets. If not for her tweets, then for giving out an Arizona State suicide prevention hotline as her personal phone number. And if not for the fake number, then for some of the hateful things she's said during off-campus appearances and lectures.

Basically, they wanted her gone.

I got the sense that Castro, were it up to him, would send the mouthy professor packing, too. But it isn't. Not unless he wants Fresno State and the Cal State University system to have to subsequently fork over millions in damages once she sues the britches off them.

Do the names Stacy Johnson-Klein, Lindy Vivas and Diane Milutinovich ring a bell?

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Fresno State President Joseph Castro gives an introduction before holding a forum to answer questions by the public about how the university handled the recent tweets by professor Randa Jarrar, at the Save Mart Center on Thursday, May 3, 2018. Craig Kohlruss The Fresno bee

Castro explained he consulted with the university's attorneys, who advised him Jarrar's tweets were protected speech. Meaning he could take no legal action against her. Nor did he have any standing to punish her for something that may have impacted another university (i.e. Arizona State).

"Would you want me to break the law? I follow the law, sir," Castro said to one speaker.

"She made you look pretty foolish," the speaker replied.

"I cannot pick and choose laws," Castro retorted. "That's not what a university president is supposed to do."

Of course, that didn't stop someone else from taking the next illogical leap: If Jarrar had tweeted about Michelle Obama what she did about Bush, then the professor "would be gone the next day."

Uh, yeah. And if Jarrar had tweeted the same about Obama, most of those people seething at Fresno State would've sat back and applauded.

Freedom of speech, just as long as it complies with your worldview.

The most entertaining speaker of the evening was the angry guy who called Castro "a pompous ass" and then proceeded to cuss him out until someone cut off his mic and the campus police ushered him back to his seat.

The man, who identified himself as a farmer, evidently took great offense to a video in which Jarrar called farmers "stupid." (The video was not filmed at Fresno State.)

We live in an age when seemingly everyone, led by our nation's highest-elected official, communicates in demeaning and derogatory terms. Civility to those with differing opinions is but a quaint memory. And yet this tough guy can't handle being called "stupid" by someone who has probably never set foot in a field?

"I am not a snowflake!" he shouted at one point.

Oh, the irony.

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Bob Fraga of Fresno questions Fresno State President Joseph Castro about how the university handled the recent tweets by professor Randa Jarrar during a public forum at the Save Mart Center on Thursday, May 3, 2018. Craig Kohlruss The Fresno Bee

Then there was the woman who told Castro about the "tens of thousands of dollars" her family has donated to Fresno State over the years in order to sit in the most expensive seats for football and men's basketball games. Now they won't.

It's not my job to tell people what to do with their money. However, I'd humbly suggest that if you expect something in return for your "donation" then it's not really a donation after all.

Also, did her family fork over all that dough because of their great love for the university, or because they love the great seats, prime tailgate spots and the status and ego boost they received from doing so?

Just a question.

Another speaker earnestly wondered if her Fresno State diploma would be "tarnished" by the controversy. I wondered that, too, until remembering that Ted Kaczynski attended Harvard and taught classes at Michigan and Cal.

There's no evidence those universities are tarnished, even though Kaczynski mailed actual bombs. All Jarrar did was drop verbal ones.

Don't take any of this as a defense of Jarrar. I don't condone anything she's tweeted or said. She gave the university a black eye and some damage control needs to be done. But this will soon blow over. The easily outraged, both in the real world and on social media, will move on to the next firestorm.

Judging by the paltry turnout and specious arguments I heard at the open-mic forum, this community is already doing so.

Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee



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