The uproar over a Fresno State professor who tweeted out insults about Barbara Bush the night of the former first lady’s death has run up against what appears to be the conclusive end to the controversy: The university has announced it can do nothing to punish her.
Randa Jarrar, a tenured professor at California State University at Fresno, tweeted out that she was “happy the witch is dead” and that she couldn’t “wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million iraqis have.”
“Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal,” she wrote on her now-private Twitter account. “Fuck outta here with your nice words.”
In the immediate backlash, she said, “I will never be fired.”
In a statement released Tuesday, Fresno State President Joseph Castro confirmed that she was right. “Professor Jarrar’s conduct was insensitive, inappropriate and an embarrassment to the university,” he said. But he clarified: “[W]e have concluded that Professor 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. Her comments, although disgraceful, are protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
The university could not punish her at all, he said, because she was acting as a private citizen, and not in connection to her job.
Jarrar has stood by her comments, despite the calls for her firing, which included a petition with tens of thousands of signatures. In an email to New York magazine, she said that she felt “compelled to speak up” to remind the country of harmful policies supported by the Bush family. She cited the invasion of Iraq as well as Barbara Bush’s doubting comments about Anita Hill and her unsympathetic comments about people displaced by Hurricane Katrina. “I want people to know that our country’s actions don’t just disappear; they have real, negative consequences,” she said in the email. “The Bush family—including Barbara Bush—supported policies that harmed and destroyed the lives of millions.”
Jarrar has also been criticized for her response to the backlash. On Twitter, after someone posted her work email and phone number, she said that she had not activated her work number and instead gave out Arizona State University’s crisis hotline as her own number. (ASU said they knew of no connection to the professor.) The crisis line was then flooded with calls, causing some to express anger that she had caused a mental health line to be spammed with angry Twitter users and not students in real need.