Gail F. Baker, vice president of the University of San Diego and Provost, released a statement explaining that Smith's comments are protected by the university's policy of academic freedom. (Kit Leong / Shutterstock.com)
University of San Diego ends investigation into professor who criticized the Chinese government
by Sabrina Conza
May 4, 2021
After two months and two letters of FIRE, the University of San Diego has finally ended her research in Professor Thomas Smith and decided that he cannot be punished for a personal blog post.
On March 10, Smith posted on his blog an excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article criticizing the Chinese government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"If you believe that the coronavirus has not escaped from the laboratory in Wuhan," Smith wrote, "then at least remember that you are an idiot who swallows a lot of Chinese rooster swaddle."
The mail was criticized based on a misunderstanding of what Smith meant by the phrase "Chinese cock swaddle" and whether it was an anti-Asian slur.
FIRE first wrote to USD on March 22, he urged the university to end its investigation of Smith's speech, which is protected by the university's commitments to free speech and academic freedom. We wrote again on April 1 after the university replied that it would continue to assess the case.
Today, USD Vice President and Provost Gail F. Baker have one statement to the campus community and explained that Smith's comments are protected by the university's academic freedom policy, as explained in FIRE's letters. Baker also wrote:
Academic freedom is at the heart of the University of San Diego's mission. At the same time, we are committed to providing an educational environment that respects the dignity of each individual. These two commitments can and must coexist. It is important that members of the university community exercise their freedom responsibly, paying attention to the impact of their protected opinions and sensitive to all members of the community, especially those who feel vulnerable, marginalized or fearful that they are not welcome . Members of the university community may feel obligated and certainly have the freedom to criticize opinions that they believe undermine the dignity of others.
USD calls for a more speech approach when individuals are offended by other people's speech, something that FIRE has advocated in front of time and time again.
While we realize that the USD eventually came to the right conclusion, the university's decision to leave Smith in the dark for months on end for examining what was clearly protected speech is inadmissible and has almost certainly had a chilling effect on the students and give their opinion to the university's faculty.
Smith was more than alone FIRE & # 39; s support during the months-long research of the USD; he also had the support of colleagues as well as the newly formed Academic Freedom Alliance, and was represented by a former fire attorney Samantha Harris.
While the USD investigation into Smith should never have begun, FIRE applauds USD for ending the investigation and reaching the correct conclusion: The faculty cannot be punished for protected speech just because some may be offended.