Academic Freedom Organization Defends Law Professor Being Investigated For Criticizing Chinese Communist Government

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Following the news that a law professor at the University of San Diego is being investigated for a personal blog post that criticized the Chinese communist government, a noted academic freedom organization has released a statement in defense of the professor.

The Academic Freedom Alliance is an organization launched earlier this month with more than 200 left- and right-leaning scholars who advocate for academic freedom. The organization’s first official statement was in defense of Tom Smith, who is under investigation for a blog post clearly referencing the Chinese government that was misinterpreted.

“Academic freedom includes the right of professors to publish blog posts on matters of general public concern without the threat of investigations and sanctions by their university employer. Unfortunately, the University of San Diego Law School is not respecting that basic principle,” the organization wrote.

As The Daily Wire previously reported, Smith was responding to a quote from a Wall Street Journal opinion article about how the Chinese communist government was stonewalling an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus. Smith included a single paragraph of commentary in response to the quote:

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. At least Peter Daszak has good personal and financial reasons, not to mention reasons of career preservation, for advancing what he must know is a facially implausible thesis. But whatever. Go Science!

His sentence about “an idiot who is swallowing whole a lot of Chinese cock swaddle” was misinterpreted – perhaps intentionally – to be a reference to the Chinese people, when it was clearly a reference to the Chinese government’s propaganda. Due to this misinterpretation, Smith added an update that reads: “It appears that some people are interpreting my reference to ‘Chinese cock swaddle,’ as a reference to an ethnic group. That is a misinterpretation. To be clear, I was referring to the Chinese government.”

No matter, students at USD jumped on the comment, with the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association circulating a petition claiming Smith’s blog post had caused “a greater, adverse impact on your own students at USD and the community at large.” Another student petition demanded Smith be fired for his personal blog post.

The USD law school then released a statement announcing it would investigate Smith’s blog post.

The AFA denounced the investigation in its own statement:

This investigation is a clear threat to Professor Smith’s academic freedom. Blog posts are a form of what the American Association of University Professors calls “extramural speech.” Extramural speech is a protected form of academic freedom. When professors “speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship of discipline.” As the AAUP has emphasized, “The controlling principle is that a faculty member’s expression of opinion as a citizen cannot constitute grounds for dismissal unless it clearly demonstrates the faculty member’s unfitness for the position.” The University of San Diego embraces those principles, declaring that the university would “uphold the highest standards of intellectual inquiry and academic freedom.”

Not only is the interpretation of Professor Smith’s phrasing as a slur based on race or national origin a tendentious misreading of the blog post in question, but the suggestion that a single phrase in a single blog post commenting on the behavior of the Chinese government and international health agencies can trigger the procedures of the university’s harassment policy sends a chilling message to all faculty. The Academic Freedom Alliance calls upon USD leadership to adhere to its academic freedom principles by rescinding its denunciation of Professor Smith and terminating all disciplinary proceedings against him based on his March 10, 2021 blog post.

Hans Bader, an attorney who formerly worked for the U.S. Department of Education, explained further that Smith’s blog post is protected speech, citing McAdams v. Marquette University, which found that blog posts “are protected by academic freedom even if bigots send hostile messages after reading them.” Bader also noted that Smith’s blog post is protected by the California Labor Code and such speech has been upheld in other court decisions.

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