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University of Cincinnati refuses to renew contract of instructor who used the term “Chinese virus”

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The University of Cincinnati has not renewed the contract of a faculty member who used the phrase “Chinese virus” in an email to a student last year. The university’s administration viewed the phrase as xenophobic.

According to a report by the Cincinnati Enquirer, the university has refused to renew the contract of John Ucker, an adjunct instructor who has been at the school since 1996. Ucker was initially put on paid leave last September pending further investigation into an email he sent a student.

“For students testing positive for the chinese virus, I will give no grade,” Ucker wrote in an email to a student. The student, Evan Sotzing, had said he would miss an in-person lab class because he suspected that he had been exposed to the coronavirus.

The student posted a screenshot of the email on Twitter and it went viral.

“My girlfriend tested positive for COVID and the University of Cincinnati’s Health Department instructed me to not attend my in-person lab. Not only did my professor give me a zero for not going, but this was his response,” Sotzing wrote on Twitter.

At the time, John Weidner, the university’s dean of Engineering and Applied Science, said that “these types of xenophobic comments and stigmatizations around location or ethnicity are more than troubling.”

“We can better protect and care for all when we speak about COVID-19 with both accuracy and empathy — something we should all strive for,” Weidner added. But some would argue the term “Chinese virus” is accurate since the pandemic started in China, in the same way that the phrases “South African,” “Brazilian,” and “British” variant have been common phrases.

Last November, Weidner released a statement providing an update on the investigation. He said that Ucker’s paid leave would extend to the rest of the fall semester. He also added:

“As an isolated reference, the term ‘Chinese virus’ did not meet the threshold to be designated harassment. However, it did represent poor judgment, caused offense to members of our community, and distracted from the learning environment.”

The lack of renewal of his contract means Ucker is no longer an employee of the University of Cincinnati, adding this to the multitude of cases of universities firing lecturers and instructors for exercising their freedom of expression.

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