Free Speech Group Rallies Support For Law Prof. Tom Smith, Under Investigation For Criticizing Chinese Government
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: “the University of San Diego School of Law is doubling down on its violation of Smith’s expressive rights”
Thomas Smith is the University of San Diego Law School professor who was targeted by student activists falsely claiming his criticisms of the Chinese government handling of coronavirus was a biased attack on Chinese people as an ethnicity.
As we described in numerous posts, that claim was demonstrably false, yet Dean Robert Schapiro immediately denounced Prof. Smith, accused him of bias, and the law school and university have launched an investigation. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has come out in strong support of Prof. Smith’s academic freedom and has called for the investigation to end immediately.
See these posts for the background:
- U. San Diego Law Prof. Thomas Smith Harshly Criticized Chinese Gov’t, Now Faces False Claims Of Ethnic Bias
- San Diego Law School “Must Immediately Cease Its Investigation” Into Prof. Thomas Smith Over China Criticism, Demands Free Speech Group
- U. San Diego Law School blows off demand it stop investigation of Prof. Thomas Smith over criticisms of Chinese government
University of Chicago Law Professor Brian Leiter has a succinct post about the absurdity of the accusations against Prof. Smith:
The background: USD law professor Tom Smith posted about the alleged dischonesty of the Chinese government, including the possibility that the coronavirus emerged from a Chinese government lab in Wuhan. Professor Smith quipped: “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.” I confess I’d never heard the phrase “cock swaddle” before, but in context the meaning clear: the Chinese government is spinning and concealing information.
Unbelievably, students complained, misreading this as a slur aimed at Chinese people. Even more remarkably, the Dean treated the complaint seriously and an “investigation” is allegedly under way….
UPDATE: Here is the letter a student group sent to Professor Smith. Rather than thinking that Professor Smith was deploying a slur against Chinese people, the students in fact think that there is a causal connection between his blog post and anti-Asian-American violence, such that he should apologize for speculating about this topic. In a way, this is even more surprisng: have the students learned so little about causation, harm, and responsibility in their legal education?
The investigation of Prof. Smith continues, and the FIRE is trying to rally support to end the inquisition:
Almost a month after launching a preliminary investigation into law professor Tom Smith’s online comments criticizing the Chinese government, the University of San Diego School of Law is doubling down on its violation of Smith’s expressive rights. In defiance of free speech advocacy efforts by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and others, the law school has now passed the investigation to the university for an official review.
“We have an oppressive institution cracking down on dissent by investigating a professor for criticizing an oppressive government cracking down on dissent,” said Sabrina Conza, FIRE program analyst. “USD’s unconscionable treatment of Smith is a delight for fans of irony and censorship alike.”
… “It’s easy to say that you have the right to free speech, but there’s a climate where there’s so much that you risk by exercising that right,” Smith told FIRE. “And it ends up really diminishing academic freedom.”
FIRE received no response to its second letter, but Smith let FIRE know on April 6 that rather than backing down, the university launched an official “review.”
“Against the objections of free speech advocates and all common sense, and in defiance of its own promises to protect extramural expression, USD continues to obsess over Smith’s comments,” said Conza. “The school must immediately end its review so that all faculty can feel free to express themselves and engage in open dialogue.”
In his inaugural address as president, USD President James Harris said the university can set an example in higher education by playing a “central role as a bastion of free speech and open dialogue in a free and democratic society.”
Though USD is a private institution not bound by the First Amendment, it is required to live up to its promises of free expression.
Prof. Smith was targeted because he is right-of-center. This isn’t the first time student activists have targeted him. Being targeted by student crybullies and their faculty and administrative enablers can be isolating. You can let him know you support him.
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