As a journalist, I am a lifelong advocate of free speech — well, the First Amendment in general. I guess it goes without saying that I am a supporter of freedom of the press.
It is very difficult to get me to speak against freedom of speech in any way.
But today I want to address freedom of speech because, contrary to what many people seem to believe, that freedom is not absolute. There are limits.
One of the most frequently mentioned is the one that says you can't yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater — or any other public place — unless there really is a fire. To do otherwise is to invite panic that is apt to leave some people hurt or dead.
Another limit on freedom of speech is what I would label good taste. And Fresno State English professor Randa Jarrar, who self–identifies as an Arab–American and a Muslim American, crossed that line with her tweets about the late Barbara Bush, calling her an "amazing racist" and professing to be glad that Bush was dead.
When others called her on it and called on the school to fire her, Jarrar fell back on the "I have tenure" argument and insisted she would never be fired — and posted a suicide hotline number as if it were her own. The number attracted a huge number of calls, the kind of calls the hotline was not designed to take, and gumming up the line may well have contributed to the deaths of others.
None of that is in good taste. In my book, it is reprehensible.
The occasion of someone's death is neither the time nor the place for getting on a soapbox, and tenure was not designed to be some kind of Get Out of Jail Free card to keep people from being held accountable for incendiary remarks.
Tenure was intended to protect professors' freedom of thought from powerful donors and alumni. That is still a worthy and noble objective.
But, as is so often the case in this world, worthy and noble objectives can be easily corrupted.
This is not a free speech issue, and tenure should not prevent Fresno State's administration from doing the right thing.