It's Fine to Call for the Firing of Randa Jarrar

"Conservatives should not want Randa Jarrar to be fired," conservative writer Megan McArdle lectures us from (what a surprise!) the Washington Post.

In case you missed it, Randa Jarrar has tenure in an English department at Fresno State University in California.  She tweeted vile remarks about Barbara Bush in the wake of Mrs. Bush's death.  The tweets were not only incoherent, but also reflective of a dark, morbid inhumanity.  Prof. Jarrar compounded her stupidity by then musing that because she is tenured, she can never be fired.

This YouTube compilation gives a quick overview of Prof. Jarrar's rather provocative intellectual output as a "queer woman of color":

It is too predictable that the Washington Post would bring out a so-called conservative as the voice of moderation.  The paper does this when conservatives with a righteous cause need to be calmed down.

We hear the same rigmarole: "we should be frankly terrified of any effort to get government officials involved in policing speech."  Yes, Jarrar represents the lowest debasement of our discourse and the worst of the left.  Yes, conservatives get fired or have their careers destroyed all the time for far less.  But McArdle insists we should rise to the high ground, so no, please don't ask the university to fire Prof. Jarrar.

McArdle dangles the little carrot to the riled up conservatives: the promise that if we tolerate liberal shenanigans, maybe we will not get fired from the Atlantic, Marquette University, or Mozilla.  According to McArdle, "[c]onservatives, even more than other Americans, should be on Jarrar's side.  Free speech always protects the minority, and that's what they are on campus."

I am conservative, a professor, and a former employee of the California State University system.  And I think Megan McArdle is wrong.  Here is why:

The entire mystique of academic freedom is nonsense.  I have written voluminously about this, but if you do not want to read Wackos Thugs & Perverts, then feel free to read this short piece.  The university system is based on tenure, which nullifies every romantic thing you have ever heard about academic freedom.  In fact, the committee of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) that deals with academic freedom is also the committee that deals with tenure.  That is because only tenured people have academic freedom.

And how do you get tenure?  You survive roughly fifteen years of graduate school and probationary work to prove to the reviewers that you think the way they do.  There is no academic freedom anywhere in the university.  So do not worry about harming academic freedom.  By firing Jarrar, you are not harming freedom; you are harming tenure.

Tenure needs to be taken down, so let's start with this person.  There is so much to be written about tenure and so little time.  Much of the problem with this institution receives fair scrutiny here.  To tenure we owe much of academia's bias, inefficiency, bad scholarship, high cost, inflexibility, incoherence, and toxic professorial behavior.  There is nothing good about it.  It empowers the worst people and strangles the careers of bright visionary thinkers.

If we are ever going to get rid of tenure, we have to start somewhere.  Why not here?  We have someone of dubious academic value, whose well documented tendency toward reckless bluster probably colors her teaching.

English as a field needs to be cleared out.  Perhaps the worst news coming out of academia right now has arrived: pro-queer gender activist Judith Butler is going to be the next president of the Modern Language Association (MLA).  The MLA oversees English, literature, and languages departments at a time when college students are not learning proper English, the classics are vanishing in favor of identity politics, and college students are no longer compelled to learn foreign languages.

Consider this nugget hidden in a March 14, 2018 report from the MLA, "New MLA Study Shows Drop in Language Study in United States": "The latest survey, conducted in 2016, shows a 9.2% decline in language study from 2013, indicating that fewer students are studying foreign languages as part of their postsecondary education."  A drop of nearly one tenth in three years, following a 6% drop in the previous interval, points to the most tragic irony of language arts.

As Americans chatter on about diversity, ethnic studies, and understanding the "other," American college students are becoming dangerously monolingual.  Many ethnic studies departments such as Asian-American Studies, for instance, do not have anybody who speaks Korean or Chinese.  Why?  The focus is on radical left-wing politics like boycotting Israel and bringing LGBT radicalism to Asian-American neighborhoods.  The focus is not on teaching the traditions of Asia as such may have influenced the United States.  I know several Asian nationals who could not advance in the field of Asian-American Studies, precisely because of bias from Asian-American scholars who strictly spoke English.  The later disliked dealing with people from Asia, partly, one could surmise, due to the embarrassing difference between deep expertise coming from highly trained Asian-born polyglots and the narrow-minded English-centered politicos cluttering the field with essays on Maxine Hong Kingston and works like M. Butterfly.

Randa Jarrar's bio describes her as a translator.  If she really brings multilingualism to the discussion, she needs to get out of English, which is crumbling under its own disgraceful descent into cultural ignorance.  She specializes in creative writing, which has cannibalized countless English departments with narcissistic "workshops" that allow students to talk about each other's juvenile writing and not challenge themselves to read something as hard as, for instance, Dante or Shakespeare.  (Remember, Dante wrote in one of those languages kids are not studying anymore!)  Her public speeches are all the usual garbage about oppression and how awful conservatives are, peppered with four-letter words that would make Chaucer blush.

Before I left secular state education in 2016 (see below), I worked for eighteen years in higher ed and watched as minds far duller than Randa Jarrar leapfrogged ahead of me.  Why?  I took the time to gain literary proficiency in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Greek, Latin, and German.  These were languages I wanted to master for the full breadth of my 2011 academic monograph, The Colorful Conservative: American Conversations with the Ancients from Wheatley to Whitman.

While I mastered languages so I could draw the connections between Hegel and Foucault, between Virgil and Whitman or Homer and Thoreau, peers were hobnobbing with famous people and sending out jargon-laden articles that cited all the people they knew were doing the "blind reviews."  The system rewarded publications (really a form of sycophancy and flattery).  Time spent on mastering languages was time that could not be spent on sending out cookie-cooker articles to cliquish journals.  Hence, the system punished people for language proficiency, an objective skill.

The entire field of language arts has to be gutted, which unfortunately means getting rid of most instructors currently in the field.  Nobody can retrain them or change them from the stubborn and poorly trained scholars they have become.  Ideally, one could fire Jarrar and then follow with more firings – perhaps the entire English department at most Cal States.

You can lose tenure and become a better person. When I left a tenured position at a California State University, people thought it was career suicide.  It was not.

I wrote about the decision at the time.  To be honest, it was scary. Life as a professor exacts decades of sacrifice.  Tenure looms as the meaningful centerpiece of it all.  But I left California and came to Texas to teach in an untenured capacity at a Baptist seminary.  I got a promotion.  I get to teach in a humanities program that imparts true wisdom – including Greek and Latin to people who are working with ancient texts as part of their religious research.  My students feel called by God to their studies.  They have a clear vocational path through the churches to which they will apply for ministry positions upon graduation.

And about those languages...at a Christian seminary, I actually use them all.  In secular university education, when we dealt with French-speaking scholars, we never actually spoke to them in French because they all spoke English.  That's not how it works when you go to a Francophone country in Africa to plant churches.

The world is big, and tenure creates the illusion that the relevant world is small.  The longer you dwell in that fishbowl, the less you know of the enormous world populated by people who are not given lifetime guarantees of employment for doing nothing particularly useful.

Probably nothing will be better for Randa Jarrar than getting out of tenure-track academia and forcing herself to be better than she currently is.  Freed from CSU, I quit Starbucks coffee (saving roughly $300 a month), I stopped drinking alcohol, I lost fifty pounds, I closed down my social media accounts, and I got back to reading a book a week.  Of real stuff.  I wrote a play that premiered in London and co-directed missions to Spain and El Salvador.  I want a transformation that pleasant and uplifting for Randa Jarrar.

Conservatives gain nothing by defending cases like these.  Regardless of Megan McArdle's hopeful claims, nobody actually helps you when you are conservative in academia and getting attacked.  This feels counterintuitive, given how much conservatives talk about the horrors of the liberal academy.  But underneath the mania over Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson, really nobody in the well funded conservative movement wants academia to change.  People pay lip service, but so many conservatives I know have had to leave university jobs quietly.  Usually a flurry of press attention segues into a period of disinterest from the right and the sinking realization "I have been hung out to dry."

For conservatives to tackle the bias in academia, they would have to risk alienating not only professors, but university trustees, alumni associations, and regents.  People like Ben Shapiro want to be invited to speak at Harvard; they do not want Harvard to be shut down.  Shutting down Harvard would be the actual best-case scenario.

The Harvards of America dominate secular education, and secular education, with Harvard intact, will not recede anytime soon.  Conservatives should pull out of the college game and send their kids to trade school.  If they want more schooling after learning how to be electricians, they can go to Christian programs like where I teach and focus on high-quality liberal arts.  Forgo the designer diplomas and seminars on gay trapeze artists of color.

If liberals see conservatives taking the high ground in a case like Randa Jarrar, they will lose the little respect they have for the right wing.  They will continue to fire the Kevin Williamsons of the world and promote the Randa Jarrars.

Robert Oscar Lopez can be followed at English Manif.