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Engineering professor under investigation for referring to COVID as the Chinese virus

Student called him out on Twitter, got him investigated

The University of Cincinnati placed an engineering professor on administrative leave and launched an investigation into him after he referred to coronavirus as the Chinese virus.

The public university told Professor John Ucker that he is on administrative leave with pay as of September 18 after a student, Evan Sotzing, posted a screenshot of an email from Ucker.

The University of Cincinnati health department ordered Sotzing to quarantine after his girlfriend tested positive for coronavirus, the student said on Twitter.

“For students testing positive for the chinese virus [sic], I will give no grade,” Ucker wrote to Sotzing. Sotzing tweeted the email on September 17 but an exact date is not visible on the email.

Sotzing claimed that he received a zero on his lab, but later admitted to the Cincinnati Enquirer that he didn’t know if Ucker’s message meant he would receive a grade of zero or the assignment would not count. The engineering college dean, John Weidner, later told CNN that Sotzing would not be punished for missing the lab.

Sotzing did not respond to a Twitter message from The College Fix on Thursday asking for a clarification on the dates of the email and his interpretation of the grading policy.

Weidner wrote to Ucker on September 18 to inform him of his investigation.

“This matter has been referred to UC’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Access (‘OEOA’) for review,” Weidner wrote, according to emails obtained by the Enquirer. “As such, effective immediately you are being placed on an administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of that review.”

MORE: UC system warns against using term “Chinese virus”

While the investigation is still ongoing, university officials have publicly criticized Ucker for his statements.

“These types of xenophobic comments and stigmatizations around location or ethnicity are more than troubling,” Weidner told CNN.

“There is no place for bigotry in our community or any other. We are better than this. Every Bearcat deserves to feel welcomed, respected and supported. Greatness starts with inclusion. And inclusion starts with each of us,” Neville Pinto, the university’s president tweeted on September 18, just hours after the school informed Ucker of his investigation and administrative leave.

Meanwhile, PEN America, the free expression group, criticized Ucker’s statement but warned the university against punitive measures.

“There’s no question that this professor’s response was both dismissive and offensive,” Jonathan Friedman, the nonprofit’s director of campus expression wrote in a press release, continuing on to criticize President Trump’s administration for using the phrase.

Friedman added that its usage “reflects poor judgement and the university should speak out to affirm its commitment to rejecting racism, bigotry, and hate,” Friedman said.

However, “we caution against pursuing any formal reprimand based solely on the words in the professor’s email.”

President Donald Trump has referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus,” while the New York Times previously referred to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan Coronavirus,” reflecting the knowledge that its spread started in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The Enquirer article said there has been an increase in the number of Asian-Americans who “have reported harassment and even physical assaults amid political rhetoric blaming China.”

Madeline Mitchell, the author of the story, referred The Fix to several articles, including a USA Today article about a U.S. House resolution condemning anti-Asian harassment and a report from an advocacy group that detailed reports of harassment directed at Asian teens.

The Enquirer is part of the USA Today network.

MORE: Taiwanese professor forced to apologize for using term ‘Wuhan virus’

IMAGE: Evan Sotzing / Twitter

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.