A tenured law professor is under investigation at the university where he works because of an article he posted on his private blog. The message in question claims that a laboratory in Wuhan, China is responsible for the origins of COVID-19.
His employer, the University of San Diego Law School, opened a preliminary investigation last month, saying he objected to some of his job’s formulations, not his actual claims. The case has since progressed to an official review by the university.
In an email response to News weekTom Smith said he was “very surprised” by the investigation and was not sure what the dean of the school was talking about when told about it.
The investigation focuses on a March 10 post on Smith’s personal blog, which contained an excerpt from an editorial in The Wall Street Journal. The original article argues that the Chinese government has not allowed the World Health Organization to conduct a proper investigation into the coronavirus outbreak in its country.
Along with a two paragraph excerpt, Smith added his own personal comment, stating: “If you think the coronavirus hasn’t escaped from the Wuhan lab, you should at least consider yourself a swallowing idiot. [a] lots of Chinese rooster swaddles. “
“The blog is private,” Smith said News week. “This is not sponsored by the SHU, and I am not identified as a SHU law professor on the blog, just a law professor. The opinion I am expressing – although it should be not make a difference – is common enough to now be official U.S. Government policy if Secretary of State Blinken’s comments [editor’s note: on the April 11 edition of NBC‘s Meet the Press, Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized China for not providing “real transparency” on the early stages of COVID-19.] are taken seriously. In its public statements and marketing materials, the USD claims to be a champion of free speech and other liberal constitutional values. “
The university maintains that it was Smith’s use of the term “Chinese rooster diaper” that sparked the investigation. The Asian Pacific American Law Student Association and the USD School of Law Student Bar Association have since called on school officials to fire Smith.
“As is perfectly clear, especially in the context, the word ‘Chinese’ in my commentary referred to the Chinese government, not to people of Chinese descent or to Americans of Chinese descent. To read it otherwise was a biased distortion of my comment, ”Smith said. .
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has championed Smith’s case upon news of the inquiry made public. FIRE is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that defines its mission as defending the individual rights of students and faculty members of US colleges and universities.
“I think they overreacted,” said FIRE lawyer Adam Steinbaugh News week of the university’s reaction. “I think they may have been concerned about the public perception with people complaining that this is anti-Chinese bigotry.”
“It was a message that was not in the classroom and was not sent to the students. It was outside the campus context, and this is where the university has the least. interest in controlling speech, ”added Steinbaugh.
The office of school president James Harris said News week Thursday: “This matter is under review. We are unable to provide further information at this time.”
Smith said the worst-case scenario in the investigation, as the Dean told him, would be his dismissal. He said: “This would, of course, be a gross violation of my academic freedom, like any sanction for this protected speech, and would also be a violation of my contract with the university and the California Labor Code.”
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