The University of San Diego (USD) has ended its investigation into a professor who criticized the Chinese government in a blog post. Campus free speech organization FIRE commented: “Although USD’s investigation into Smith should never have begun, FIRE applauds USD for ending the investigation and coming to the correct conclusion: Faculty cannot be punished for protected expression just because some may be offended.”
The university determined that it cannot punish professor Thomas Smith for his personal blog post, according to a press release from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).
In March, USD began investigating Smith over a blog post in which he used “offensive” language in reference to Chinese government propaganda.
“If you believe that the coronavirus did not escape from the lab in Wuhan, you have to at least consider that you are an idiot who is swallowing whole a lot of Chinese cock swaddle,” the professor wrote at the time.
Following the university beginning its investigation, FIRE wrote to USD, urging the school to end its probe into Smith’s speech, saying it is protected by the university’s commitments to free expression and academic freedom.
The organization added that last month, the university responded saying it would continue to review the matter.
On Tuesday, USD Vice President and Provost Gail Baker released a statement, explaining that Smith’s comments are protected by the school’s academic freedom policy.
“Academic freedom lies at the core of the mission of the University of San Diego. At the same time, we are committed to providing an educational environment that honors the dignity of every individual. Those two commitments can and must co-exist,” Baker said.
“It is important that members of the university community exercise their freedom in a responsible fashion, attentive to the impact of their protected opinions and sensitive to all members of the community, especially those who may feel vulnerable, marginalized or fearful that they are not welcomed,” Baker added. “Members of the university community may feel an obligation, and certainly have the freedom, to criticize opinions that they believe demean the dignity of others.”
FIRE said that while it appreciates USD’s conclusion, “the university’s decision to leave Smith in the dark for months as it investigated what was clearly protected speech is impermissible and has almost certainly caused a chilling effect on the university’s students and faculty who wish to express their opinions.”
“Although USD’s investigation into Smith should never have begun, FIRE applauds USD for ending the investigation and coming to the correct conclusion: Faculty cannot be punished for protected expression just because some may be offended,” the organization added.