Professors Have Free Speech Too

by The Cowl Editor on May 3, 2018


Dr. Randa Jarrar received backlash for critical comments about deceased former
first lady Barbara Bush. Photo courtesy of Frontpage Mag.

Where should we draw the line between censorship and free speech? 

Fresno State University professor Randa Jarrar recently made headlines after she shared her opinions on the recently deceased former first lady Barbara Bush.

Almost immediately afterward, she faced an overwhelming critical response. People not only took offense to her comments, but were also abhorred by the fact that these words were coming from an educator’s mouth.

The heart of the issue here is a seemingly simple, well-intentioned rule for educators throughout the United States: professors’ personal opinions have no place in the classroom.

This is done in an attempt to provide an unbiased education that forms free-thinking individuals. Since younger students are more susceptible to the influence of adults, such as their teachers, this rule certainly makes sense.

Outside of the classroom, teachers are free to express their thoughts, at least in theory. In reality, this is not the case, as demonstrated by the recent controversy over Jarrar’s tweet. Teachers are expected to follow these classroom rules in their everyday lives as well.

While it is understandable that our nation’s educators should be held to high standards of conduct, as they are handling the minds of the future, it is unfair to expect teachers to censor their opinions on social media.

Our teachers are raising students to be able to think for themselves, yet they are expected to hold back from expressing their thoughts outside of the classroom.

Teachers, like any other people, have opinions. Social media, with appropriate restrictions and privacy settings, would seem the ideal means for educators to have discussions and join our national conversations.

Yes, teachers must keep their social media pages professional in regards to their comments and the photos they post, but at the end of the day, this professionalism should not restrict their ability to share opinions with other individuals.

These opinions are not being shared with their students, and as long as these opinions are not manifesting themselves in the form of biased lessons, there is no reason to expect teachers to censor themselves on these matters.

There certainly are teachers who share inappropriate material on social media, or who allow current students to follow them online. These are quite obvious breaches of professionalism, and such individuals are, without a doubt, in the wrong.

However, this is not the case for Jarrar, as she was expressing an opinion outside of the classroom, albeit on a public Twitter account. Perhaps if her account had been private, such a controversy could have been avoided.

Even if one agrees with her criticisms of the former first lady, Jarrar is an educator, and because she shared her thoughts on a public Twitter account, she has become the target of much anger from conservatives and liberals alike.

While one can argue her language was inappropriate or disagree with her opinion, it is terribly unfair for anyone to claim that she cannot say these things due to her status as an educator.

She did not share her thoughts during a class, and, as an English professor, it hardly seems likely that this opinion would have influenced a particular lesson. Her mistake was believing that she could express an opinion on social media.

No teacher is perfect. It is impossible to expect anyone to not have opinions in this day and age.  As a society, we need to grant teachers the same opportunities to share their thoughts with other adults on social media.

As stated before, reasonable standards for online conduct are certainly in order. Expecting educators to constantly censor themselves, however, is contradictory to the concept of free speech.

Our society is one of discussion and debate, and by restricting our educators’ abilities to express opinions online, we are preventing them from fully participating in these national dialogues.