Is free speech possible without job security?

When an English professor at California State University at Fresno tweets from a personal account while on leave that the late Barbara Bush was an “amazing racist” who raised a “war criminal,” there was no doubt that Fresno’s president would get embroiled in the latest salvo in the free speech wars. Despite the president’s remarks, however, Randa Jarrar is safe because it would cost the university a great deal of money to rid itself of her:

Henry Reichman, a professor emeritus of history at California State University-East Bay, chairs the association’s committee on academic freedom and tenure.

“There is little doubt in my mind that the professor’s tweets, while arguably ill-considered and quite foolish, are protected speech,” he wrote in an email to The Chronicle. “They were made in her capacity as a citizen and as such constitute what the AAUP calls extramural expression.” Such statements, he said, “constitute grounds for discipline only if they clearly demonstrate a lack of fitness for one’s position.”

Because she is protected by both tenure and a collective-bargaining agreement, Jarrar enjoys significant due-process protections, Reichman said. He called Castro’s statement that “all options” are on the table “both inaccurate and irresponsible.”

“While it is true that tenure does not permit faculty members to say or do whatever they want, it does clearly protect the specific statements that this faculty member made, however much the administration or anyone else, myself included, may find them offensive,” Reichman said.

The thought of an employer, even a public university like Fresno, punishing an employee for political speech made on her own time chills me. We shouldn’t need tenure to be sentient human beings who can exist apart from our jobs; this, to me, is the conclusion I make from this episode. Some of us are lucky to have job security.

But Randa Jarrar probably pissed off colleagues too: thanks to Jarrar’s tweeting the number of a suicide hotline at Arizona State University (to my mind the crassest thing she did), imagine the workshops the dean will demand the faculty sign up for.

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