A New Low?

It was despicable. It was crass. It was ugly. IMHO. But as far as I’m concerned, Professor Randa Jarrar’s comments about war criminals, Barbara Bush, and the status of tenured radicals were not much different from what we’ve seen already.

The topic came up when a journalist called me yesterday to talk over the case. Among her questions, she wondered if Professor Jarrar’s hateful tweets represented a new low in academic discourse. I invite SAGLRROILYBYGTH to disagree, but I think Jarrar’s comments, as nasty as they were, are nothing new in academic life.randa jarrar 1

Here’s what we know: Professor Jarrar teaches English at Fresno State University. When former First Lady Barbara Bush passed away, Professor Jarrar seized the opportunity to tweet her outrage about President Bush’s policies. As Jarrar put it,

Barbara Bush was a generous and smart and amazing racist who . . . raised a war criminal. . . . I’m happy the witch is dead.

As Jarrar attracted attention from friends and foes for her comments, she bragged that she made a six-figure salary and couldn’t be fired. Trolls dug up video clips of Jarrar’s public talks, in which she seemed to call for violence against white-supremacist Richard Spencer, among other things.randa jarrar 2

Loud. Brash. Unpleasant. But a new low? I don’t think so. I think Professor Jarrar, like so many other academics these days, was scrambling to build her brand. She was looking for attention—as all humanities academics these days feel pressed to do—and she did so in a particularly nasty way.

I don’t like it, but I don’t think it’s worse than other provocations from pundits of both the left and the right. Am I missing something?