Randa Jarrar appears to have been stripped of her name at Fresno State.
It’s just the opposite for Barbara Bush.
On Wednesday I attended two meetings at the university concerning the Jarrar-Bush dustup. Permit me to sidestep a review of the quarrel’s details. I trust we all know the general outline by now.
The first meeting was held in a large conference room at one end of the North Gym (the site used to house an indoor swimming pool). Hundreds of students and professors gathered to hear comments from Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro and several other top university officials. Participants posed questions, as well.
Castro, for a variety of sound (not to mention legal) reasons, could say little that he hadn’t already said in official statements. He disagreed strongly with the content, tone and timing of Jarrar’s Twitter statements. He strongly embraces the First Amendment protections of free speech. He empathizes with university and community members who are upset with Jarrar’s comments.
There was some talk about revising university policies/guidelines on proper behavior expected of employees. Here, again, the meeting ventured into delicate territory. No one wants a cure worse than the disease.
Political Science Professor Dr. Thomas Holyoke, chairman of Fresno State’s academic senate and among those sharing the hot seat with Castro, pitched a piece of wisdom familiar to any parent dealing with a rambunctious adolescent child: Learn to put a “filter” between impulse and mouth.
I understand from my colleagues at The Collegian that the meeting lasted about 80 minutes. I stayed for only half. I left when a member of the English Department trooped to the public microphone, in theory to ask a question but in reality to read from a printed statement. I could see that her typed statement was single-spaced and filled an entire sheet of 8-and-a-half-by-11 paper – and she held more than one sheet.
At that point, I had heard no one in the North Gym room mention Jarrar by name.
The second meeting on Wednesday was a candlelight vigil for Mrs. Bush in the early evening at the university’s Free Speech Area. The vigil was sponsored by Fresno State College Republicans.
Nick Matoian, the group’s president, said Mrs. Bush “set out to make a difference for children.” Toward that end, Matoian said, Mrs. Bush devoted much of her life to the cause of literacy.
Matoian as a public speaker has excellent judgment. He saw no need to belabor the obvious contrast: Jarrar uses her bully pulpit to trash Mrs. Bush in print; Mrs. Bush uses her bully pulpit to help people become literate so they can read Jarrar and make up their own minds.
About 25 people, including a handful of speakers, attended the Bush vigil. It was over within 15 minutes. There was no shouting, no anger, no self-righteousness. The value of free speech was reaffirmed. So, too, was the value of personal responsibility.
The small turnout turned out to be a blessing. The vigil was dignified.
Among the speakers was Blake Zante, Fresno State’s student body president.
Zante thanked the students, university officials and community members who had gathered “to honor the legacy of a woman whose life was devoted to serving others. A woman who stood for unity. The unity of a nation.”
Zante went on to say: “That is what former First Lady Barbara Bush stood for. She was a lifelong servant to our nation and a true leader who exemplified the importance of standing tall when times were tough. She had a thick skin, and I guarantee you that she would gracefully shake off the divisive comments that have been said by an individual several weeks ago. I won’t mention that person’s name because this is not about them – this is about honoring the life of our former First Lady.
“Nothing I can say here will even do a remote justice of honoring the life of Barbara Bush. In the past few weeks, we have heard divisive and hateful rhetoric from a person who has not exemplified our values as a university – and especially has not exemplified the values and grace of Barbara Bush.
“Let us not be divided as a university, as a community and as a city by these words. Barbara Bush once said, ‘Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of success will be how you treat other people – your family, friends and coworkers, and even strangers you meet along the way.’
“There is so much noise. Social media. Radio. Television. People full of hate. People that aim to divide and tear down.
“Let us honor the legacy of Barbara Bush by exemplifying her leadership, grace and values. Let us stand here tonight, together, as a community. As one people.”