FRESNO, Calif., April 25, 2018 — California State University, Fresno President Joseph Castro announced late Tuesday that the university will drop its investigation of professor Randa Jarrar for her Twitter comments about the death of former First Lady Barbara Bush. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and a coalition of civil liberties organizations had warned the school that investigating the professor would be an attack on her free speech and academic freedom rights.
“Americans may face a variety of social consequences for making political statements that others find offensive or upsetting,” said Ari Cohn, director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “But official punishment by an agency of the government like Fresno State is not, and must not become, one of those consequences, regardless of the views being expressed.”
FIRE was joined by the ACLU of Northern California, Defending Rights & Dissent, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Coalition Against Censorship, PEN America, Project Censored, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression in the letter to Fresno State. The letter reminded President Castro that that there is no First Amendment exception for “disrespectful” speech and that a public university may not punish a professor for speech expressed in her private capacity on matters of public concern, which undoubtedly include public figures in the Bush family as well as the Iraq War.
Fresno State ultimately agreed. “Her comments, although disgraceful, are protected free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” wrote Castro in a statement Tuesday. “Our duty as Americans and as educators is to promote a free exchange of diverse views, even if we disagree with them.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org