University of San Diego Ends Investigation on Professor Who Questioned CCP Virus Origin

May 5, 2021 Updated: May 5, 2021

University of San Diego (USD) said it will not punish a professor who has been under investigation in the past two months after writing in his personal blog about the Chinese regime’s role in the global pandemic.

The investigation stemmed from a Mar. 10 blog post, in which USD law school professor Thomas Smith cited an excerpt of a Wall Street Journal article concerning Beijing’s unwillingness to cooperate with international experts in their mission to establish the origin of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

“If you believe that the coronavirus did not escape from the lab in Wuhan,” Smith wrote, “you have to at least consider that you are an idiot who is swallowing a whole lot of Chinese cock swaddle.”

The post drew complaints after students deemed the phrase “Chinese cock swaddle” to be an anti-Asian slur. “Recent anti-Asian hate crimes and sentiments can be traced back to rhetoric and conspiracy theories blaming China for the COVID-19,” a USD student group wrote in a letter to Smith. “Normalizing such rhetoric has a direct link to the rise in racism against ​all​ Asian Americans based on the false perception that a racial group could be responsible for the pandemic. These violent crimes are a result of simple words.”

According to Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-profit organization advocating for campus free speech, Smith was informed on March 17 that he was being investigated for possible violation of university or law school policies.

Smith promptly updated his blog post, saying, “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.”

The investigation nonetheless continued until May 4, when USD Vice President and Provost Gail F. Baker released a statement to the campus community, saying that Smith’s will not be punished because his comments fall within the bounds of academic freedom.

“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,” he 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, which has written twice to urge the USD to end the investigation of Smith, said that while it welcomes the university’s decision, the incident “has almost certainly caused a chilling effect” on 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 said.