Don’t speak badly of the dead. De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. That phrase goes back more than 1,500 years and has been practiced at least that long.
But not so much today. So it should surprise no one that, upon the death of former first lady Barbara Bush last week, someone used Twitter to call her an “amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal. F— outta here with your nice words.”
What did surprise people was that the tweeter was a Fresno State English professor named Randa Jarrar, who continued her Twitter jousting with Internet critics, including the following comments:
“Either you are against these pieces of s— and their genocidal ways or you’re part of the problem.”
“I’m happy the witch is dead. can’t wait for the rest of her family to fall to their demise the way 1.5 million iraqis have. byyyeeeeeeee.”
When showered with angry responses, some calling for her dismissal, Jarrar pulled the most incendiary trump card of all: her tenure.
“I work as a tenured professor. I make 100K a year … I will never be fired.”
The academic form of sticking out your tongue and yelling, “Nyah, nyah.”
Disgusting, obnoxious, insensitive tweets
Naturally, Jarrar’s actions — and her tweeting out a suicide hotline number, saying it was hers, which jammed that line for days — brought immediate scrutiny to Fresno State, and heated debate over free speech on college campuses.
Conservatives screamed for her head and asked why Jarrar is tolerated when right-wing speakers are protested or even banned from universities. Liberals claimed that if Jarrar were punished, it would only prove that free speech in this country is in peril.
And lost in this debate is the simple fact that Jarrar behaved like an obnoxious, petulant child. Her timing was insensitive, her glee at another’s death was disgusting, her lack of empathy for a grieving family was sub-human, and her chest pounding of tenure, a concept put into effect by the very government she apparently abhors, was hypocritical.
It’s also beneath the behavior you’d expect from any teacher.
Jarrar, according to the Los Angeles Times, in her late 30s. She identifies as Arab-American and Muslim American, although she was born in the U.S., then lived in the Middle East until 1991. With three advanced degrees — one from the University of Michigan — she apparently has spent most of her adult life in academia.
Yet, according to numerous websites, she has tweeted out things like this:
• “I can’t wait for the old white guard of literary writers and ‘critics’ to die. Their time is f—ing up, too”
• “We are sooooo much cooler than Israelis, don’t at me b—-.”
• “… f— outta here with your white feminism. I said don’t at me, b—-. I’m a professor…”
This is someone teaching our kids.
Tenure wasn’t designed to protect this
Which raises the question, how low must you sink before getting fired from a university? Tenure, which protects certain professor’s jobs, sometimes for entire careers, makes it unclear. Invented in the 20th century, tenure was designed to keep powerful college donors from influencing freedom of thought.
It’s a noble idea. But in an era when a Facebook post can get high school teachers fired, and a video clip can close down a national coffee chain for a day, a tenure bubble seems out of step with every other working American.
There was no Twitter when tenure was conceived. Back then, it was about protecting lectures or written works. Behaving like an insensitive ass in public — which, let’s be blunt, is what Jarrar did — was never the intent. Nor was bragging about a $100K salary and your inability to get fired.
Fresno State president Joseph Castro called Jarrar’s tweets “unacceptable.” But what will he do about them? Last year, another Fresno State professor, Lars Maischak, tweeted out that “to save American democracy, (President) Trump must hang. The sooner and the higher, the better.” He also called for designs for a monument to whomever assassinated Trump.
For this, he was investigated by the feds, and ultimately demoted to teaching only online courses. Last Thursday, he wrote a piece for the Fresno Bee defending Jarrar, likening the criticism of her to Nazism, and saying Castro is a “parade marshal for the lynch mob. Shame on him.”
Really? Shame on him? Not the woman who clogged a suicide hotline and spat on a dead woman’s memory? That pretty much sums up the rabid blindness of our political wars. From a President who tweets like an angry teen, to a professor who tweets like a taunting rap artist, we’re missing the point.
It’s not about politics. It’s about being human. A 92-year-old woman died. Her family is grieving. She was not an elected official. Can’t you express your issues without dancing on her grave?
Don’t speak badly of the dead. Like other time-honored civilities, that seems to be crushed by the “You Will Hear Me!” mentality of social media.
Too bad someone as educated as Jarrar can’t understand that most of her critics aren’t reacting to her ideals, just her foul, cruel, immature way of expressing them. If she doesn’t like the reaction, there’s a pretty simple solution.
Contact Mitch Albom: email@example.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.