The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Syracuse.com (Chris Carlson) reports:
Syracuse University has placed a professor on administrative leave, saying they used derogatory and offensive language toward Chinese students on a course syllabus….
The Tab Syracuse, a social media account that covers Syracuse University news, posted a photo of a syllabus that references the coronavirus as both the "Wuhan flu" and "Chinese Communist Party Virus."
Screenshots of the syllabus show that it was for a chemistry class taught by Jon Zubieta, who the school lists as a distinguished professor of chemistry who won the Chancellor's Award for Excellence in Research in 1988.
Here's the Syracuse University statement:
Syracuse University unequivocally condemns racism and xenophobia and rejects bigotry, hate and intolerance of any kind.
The derogatory language used by a professor on his course syllabus is damaging to the learning environment for our students and offensive to Chinese, international and Asian-Americans everywhere who have experienced hate speech, rhetoric and actions since the pandemic began.
As a result, a complaint has been filed against the professor with the Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution Services. The complaint will be investigated and addressed according to procedures set forth in the Faculty Manual. The professor has been placed on administrative leave from teaching and removed from the classroom pending the outcome of a full investigation.
We will not allow any member of our community to violate the University's commitment to a safe, inclusive and welcoming learning and living environment. Professors are expected to be especially mindful of these goals, as they are the individuals entrusted to cultivate productive, professional and supportive classrooms for our students. Syracuse University is committed to being an anti-racist community and will take swift action to confront bias and hate.
Well, I unequivocally condemn Syracuse University for punishing faculty expression of viewpoints that in context are clearly condemnation of a country and its rulers—China and its Communist Party—and not of an ethnic group. Asian-Americans should certainly not find this to be an attack against them, just like we Russian-Americans shouldn't find criticism of Russia and Putin's ruling elite to be an attack against us.
Chinese students, namely students from China, might be offended by criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, and the implication that China is responsible for the spread of the virus. Tough. You are no more entitled to be shielded from criticism from your country than Americans are to be shielded from criticism of the U.S. in other countries (or for that matter the in the U.S.).
Now one could object to the syllabus on other grounds: Professors, it seems to me, shouldn't use a syllabus as a place for including political spin, especially spin that's unrelated to the subject of the class—whether it's political spin against the Chinese government, or against President Trump, or whatever else. That hasn't generally been seen as a basis for discipline of university faculty members, though it might be a basis for a mild rebuke.
But obviously Syracuse isn't trying to enforce any viewpoint-neutral policy of that sort. They're trying to suppress a particular set of viewpoints—whatever they choose to label "racist," including certain kinds of criticisms of China and the Chinese Communist Party. And of course the very malleability and potential breadth of the term "racist" will deter a wide range of speech that professors might fear might be labeled by critics and the administration that way. I expect that's the goal.
Thanks to Mike LaChance (Legal Insurrection) for the pointer.