(By Ron Trowbridge):
Most of the country is infuriated by Fresno State professor of English Randa Jarrar for celebrating the death of Barbara Bush and calling her a “racist” and “witch.” What officially can be done about it? Nothing.
Supreme Court rulings have protected her First Amendment right to be obnoxious and hurtful. Justice Antonin Scalia observed, “If you stop speech that hurts other people’s feelings, the First Amendment will become a dead letter.” When Justice Samuel Alito was an appellate judge, he opined, “There is no ‘harassment exception’ in the First Amendment’s free speech clause.” In Matal v Tam, “viewpoint discrimination”—against insensitive viewpoints—is unconstitutional. And Justice William O. Douglas in Terminiello v Chicago wrote the majority opinion, declaring: “The function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. . . . Speech is often provocative.”
The only thing Fresno State could conceivably do to punish English professor Jarrar is to assign her to teach only freshman English composition courses, denying her more interesting upper level courses. I don’t see the university doing that.
More troubling to many is the radical left-wing indoctrination she’s thrusting upon her young, innocent students. But then I realize that most professors in the humanities are left of center. Survey after survey reveals that professors in the humanities are overwhelmingly liberal or Democratic. One survey reports 12 Democrats to 1 Republican. But nothing can be done about this disparity. We can’t ask a professor applying for a job, “Are you liberal or conservative?” Professors in the humanities are just pathologically, culturally, conformingly liberal or “progressive.” They just are, and nothing can be done about it. E. B. White said, “I’ve never seen a piece of writing, political or non political, that doesn’t have a slant. It slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular.” Professors take that slant into the classroom, even without intention.
There is only one avenue left for critics to take regarding the Fresno State University fiasco and that is for parents to prepare their kids in advance for what they will encounter in college. I did so for my own daughter, about to enter a college out East. I wrote her the following letter, here truncated, to be opened on her first day on campus:
“As you depart for college, I want to leave you with as honest and sincere advice as I know. Ben Franklin once said that an example is the best sermon. But negative examples also instruct. (I then gave her negative examples at Stanford, Cornell, Williams, the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan—my alma mater, and other schools.)
Most of your professors will be excellent and you will gain a priceless education attending college. But a few of your professors will be militant, intolerant disasters, yet they will be ostensibly intelligent and far more articulate than you.
So what should you do?
First, recognize these bad apples and don’t let yourself, as Joseph Conrad warned, be assaulted by the powers of darkness. Second, avoid them if you can. Third, if you can’t avoid them, don’t let them guilt sling you. Fourth—and here’s the tough one, how should you react in a class with a bad apple? If you go along with him or her, you have been dishonest with your own principles and yourself. If you don’t go along, you may well be punished with low grades and public ridicule in the classroom.
I’d rather you remain honest to yourself and your principles; this takes real courage, which is the most demanding of all virtues. Remember C. S. Lewis, who observed, ‘Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.’ Your mother and I will accept, with pride, your D grade if it was given as political punishment because you remained principled.”
My daughter had a few bad apples, but she didn’t succumb. This preparation is what families and students need to do with regard to a professor Jarrar. It’s the only thing they can do. If they protest to universities, administrators will listen, then do nothing.
Ronald L. Trowbridge, Ph. D.
Former tenured professor of English
Former chief of staff for Chief Justice Warren Burger