Fresno State announced on Wednesday that they are opening an investigation into Professor Randa Jarrar, who celebrated former First Lady Barbara Bush’s death earlier this week.
Fresno State Professor Randa Jarrar is now facing an investigation from her institution after she posted a series of tweets celebrating the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush.
“Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal. F**k outta here with your nice words,” Jarrar tweeted on Tuesday.
In a separate tweet, Jarrar said that the news made her “happy” because Barbara Bush’s death likely made George W. Bush upset.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Fresno State Provost Lynette Zelezny announced that the university was launching an investigation into Jarrar.
“When we talk about freedom of speech and the words that we use, we are trying to encourage, here at the university, words that are respectful,” Zelezny argued during the press conference.
Because Fresno State is a public institution, it would likely be unconstitutional for the university to discipline or fire Jarrar over her tweets. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) published an analysis on Wednesday explaining that Fresno State cannot legally discipline Jarrar for her tweets.
“Fresno State correctly acknowledges that Jarrar’s tweets were made as a private citizen. 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,” Adam Steinbaugh wrote.
FIRE cited a 1983 Supreme Court decision that concluded that government employees cannot be disciplined for engaging in speech. In an analysis, FIRE explained that the law is well established on this matter.
The law is well-established that employees of government institutions like [a public university] retain a First Amendment right to speak as private citizens on matters of public concern and may not be disciplined or retaliated against for their constitutionally protected expression unless the government employer demonstrates that the expression hindered “the effective and efficient fulfillment of its responsibilities to the public.”
FIRE is concerned that the investigation into Jarrar will serve to stifle speech. In a 2016 column, Steinbaugh wrote that an improper investigation, by itself, could have a chilling effect on a community’s willingness to express controversial thoughts and ideas.