The Latest in Academic Malfeasance (at Least She’s Not in Academic Philosophy)

Most people would claim, commonsensically I think, that a wrong has been done by insulting someone recently deceased, unless that person did something truly heinous during her life.

In that case, what are we to make of the Twitter attacks on the late Barbara Bush by Randa Jarrar, English professor at California State University at Fresno, or Fresno State. What Jarrar tweeted: “Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal.” She added she was “happy the witch is dead” and hoped the rest of the family would soon follow.


She has received support from civil rights and arts groups, which speaks volumes about where such groups’ heads are at these days.

Who is she? We know that she has tenure at her university (and is paid a generous six figures!), for in response to the thousands who criticized her tweets as inappropriate and uncalled-for, she pointed this out, almost as if gloating. We know she grew up in Kuwait and Egypt, came to the U.S. after the Gulf War, and self-identifies as both an “Arab-American” and a “Muslim woman.”

We also know that when someone tried to post her contact information online, she retaliated by posting a student crisis hotline based at Arizona State University as her personal phone number. “If you really wanna reach me, here’s my number ok?” she taunted. It is unclear why she chose ASU, as she did not go to school there and appears to have no connection to the institution.

The hotline, which normally receives around five calls per week, was inundated with dozens of phone calls per hour.

This was not a mere juvenile prank. This is what I call academic malfeasance — conceivably criminal, although an attorney or court of law would have to make that kind of determination. Suppose a student had needed to call that number and not been able to get through because the line was tied up!

These actions speak for themselves!

I linked to Jarrar’s personal website above, which also speaks for itself. It tells you what you might want to know about her preoccupations.

Her university page lists no formal credentials, unlike the pages of her colleagues. I don’t want to harp too much on the matter here, but one wonders if Fresno State’s affirmative action program had anything to do with her being hired there in the first place. This is probably a stupid question. Many of us have criticized affirmative action for opening the door to hiring unqualified people apt to create this sort of row, and have their actions given feeble rationalizations by administrators they serve under.

In this case, Fresno State president Joseph Castro stated of her remarks that “Her comments, although disgraceful, are protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution…. Our duty as Americans and educators is to promote a free exchange of diverse views, even if we disagree with them.”

He added, “Professor Jarrar’s conduct was insensitive, inappropriate and an embarrassment to the university…. On campus and whenever we are representing the university, I expect all of us to engage in respectful dialogue.”

I will just ask: would a professor still have a university job after such remarks, had he been a white male and the target of his criticism was, say, a Muslim woman (or someone in any other government-designated victim group)? Or even if he had criticized the late wife of a former Democratic president? I’ll leave readers to ponder the matter, as well as why President Castro has chosen to hide behind the First Amendment.

Hide behind? Is it appropriate of me to say that? After all, does the First Amendment not protect speech many would deem “offensive”? I wonder, though, if he believes Jarrar’s First Amendment rights entitle her to post an actual crisis hotline number as if it were her personal number, or if he wasn’t informed of this, or simply doesn’t consider the matter important enough to pursue.

Besides, the First Amendment did not protect Steve Salaita, whose tweets criticized Israel. The object lesson for cautious observers of that case: never criticize Israel (especially not with Zionist Jews on your would-have-been employer’s board of trustees!).

Professors who lean conservative (Salaita does not, obviously) have been driven from their jobs for far less. One may consider the case of John McAdams, released by Marquette University following his criticizing a female graduate student whom he had accused of trying to shut down criticism of gay marriage in her philosophy class — that is, in one of the few subjects where open discussion of different perspectives on morality, homosexuality, and gay marriage should be considered legitimate. The university contends McAdams was fired for “doxing” the student: posting her personal information on his blog. McAdams responds that what he posted was already publicly available information. His lawsuit against his former employer goes to the Wisconsin Supreme Court this very week.

There is no affirmative action for conservative intellectuals in academe, it goes without saying, although some have (only half-seriously) suggested it. Nor, obviously, do conservatives receive the kinds of passes or kid-glove handling for “offensive” speech Jarrar has received.

It seems to me that had a bona fide merit system been put in place in academia over half a century ago, we would not be seeing these controversies nor be having to raise these issues today.

In closing, I will note that neither Bush was my favorite U.S. president. It was under the first George Bush’s watch that NAFTA was finalized, after all; “neoconservatism” completed its takeover of the Republican Party during that era; and political correctness got the foothold in the universities it has strengthened ever since while neocon-dominated think tanks and supposed watchdog organizations did little beyond wringing their hands.

It was under the command of the second George Bush that the U.S. committed one of its worst foreign policy blunders ever: the Iraq War.

But none of these follies can be attributed to the late Barbara Bush. What reasonable person could think they could be?

There is a time and a place to critically discuss policies, and a time and a place just to be quiet and show respect for the recently deceased, while leaving their families alone. I would think there would be no need to remind adults of that, but it has been a long time since adults were in charge in many humanities and liberal arts departments: one of the reasons these subjects have fallen into disrepute and are even being phased out in some places.

The one plus I see in this whole pathetic situation: at least Randa Jarrar is not in a philosophy program!

About Steven Yates

I have a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Georgia and teach Critical Thinking (mostly in English) at Universidad Nacionale Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile. I moved here in 2012 from South Carolina. My most recent book is entitled Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic (2011). I am the author of an earlier book, around two dozen articles & reviews, & still more articles on commentary sites on the Web. I live in Santiago with my wife Gisela & two spoiled cats, Bo & Princesa.
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1 Response to The Latest in Academic Malfeasance (at Least She’s Not in Academic Philosophy)

  1. Lisa-Renee says:

    Excellent article Dr. Yates. I always enjoy reading from your perspective…. always point on!

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