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University president apologizes for ‘liking’ tweets criticizing COVID vaccine, child gender surgery

Many observers expressed shock that president was attacked for ‘liking’ tweets

The president of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia recently issued an apology and walked back his apparent affirmation of tweets expressing conservative views.

“I regret my lack of understanding of how ‘liking’ a tweet is an implied endorsement,” President Mark Tykocinski, who is also a molecular immunologist and medical doctor, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The president recently came under fire for having “liked” tweets over the past year expressing skepticism about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, calling minor gender surgery “child mutilation,” and other politically incorrect views, according to The Inquirer.

Tykocinski (pictured) is also a dean of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College. He “liked” tweets to save them for later “to learn more about the subject matter or the particular viewpoint,” not to indicate agreement, he told The Inquirer.

“Two years after their introduction, the mRNAs Covid vaccines have proven to be what we all should have expected,” read one tweet Tykocinski “liked” in the past year, written by author and former New York Times journalist Alex Berenson in December 2022.

“Another in a long line of overhyped, rushed, profit-driven Big Pharma flops with weak long-term efficacy and a lousy side effect profile,” Berenson continued.

In a message Sunday to students, faculty, and staff, Thomas Jefferson University CEO Joseph Cacchione said he was “disappointed” in Tykocinski for his “careless” Twitter activity, The Inquirer reported.

Responding to this development, Berenson expressed concern.

“The president of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia may be about to lose his job,” Berenson tweeted. “Dr. Mark Tykocinski is a 70-year-old immunologist with an spotless academic record. His crime appears to be liking my tweets.”

Stanford School of Medicine Professor Jay Bhattacharya opined on Twitter that the incident was “absurd.”

“A reporter used her time and the authority of her publication to spy on what the president of a medical school ‘likes’ on twitter … That medical school and president responded by an abject apology for thought crimes… Medical schools are an epicenter of an insane cultural revolution,” he tweeted.

Twitter CEO Elon Musk responded to Battycharya’s comment: “So the president of a university, which is supposed to be a bastion of freedom of expression, was almost fired for liking factually correct tweets!?”

“That is seriously messed up. The board of trustees should hang their heads in shame and apologize!”

‘Private companies disciplining employees for their off-the-clock speech … should be an extremely rare event,’ FIRE said

“Liking” a tweet means clicking on the heart icon on the tweet. “It is common practice on Twitter for users to indicate that ‘liking’ a post does not necessarily equate to endorsing a tweet or the person behind the tweet,” Fox News reported regarding the Tykocinski matter.

“Americans should feel free to express political opinions in their personal lives without worrying about losing their livelihoods,” Aaron Terr, director of public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, told The College Fix in response to a query about whether firing Tykocinski would be legal.

Nonetheless, “the First Amendment applies only to the government,” Terr said. “It doesn’t prohibit a private company or institution from punishing an employee for their speech.”

Thomas Jefferson University is a private institution.

“Still, private companies disciplining employees for their off-the-clock speech — especially something as innocuous as liking a tweet — should be an extremely rare event in a tolerant, pluralist democracy that values free expression,” Terr said.

“I think it’s important we protect free speech generally and particularly in the academy and the university,” media law Professor Larry Burriss of Middle Tennessee State University said in an in-person interview with The Fix.

Burriss has spoken and written extensively on issues of free speech, including recently for a Tennessee local radio station on the topic of the heckler’s veto.

“[The university] is supposed to be a place where you should feel safe in discussing various issues, and we need to protect that, absolutely,” Burriss said.

Tykocinski took the helm of Thomas Jefferson University in July 2022. When they hired him one year ago for the new position, the university touted his vast accomplishments in the medical and scientific fields.

“In addition to his achievements as an academic leader, Dr. Tykocinski is a biomedical innovator, where his focus has been on pioneering unique immunotherapeutic strategies that invoke engineered proteins and cells,” a university news release stated.

“Among his scientific accomplishments, he has designed several novel classes of fusion proteins with therapeutic potential for cancer and autoimmunity. … He has also made seminal contributions to the field of gene therapy, including the creation a novel class of episomal eukaryotic expression vectors, which have been disseminated widely.”

MORE: Professor fired after tweeting about ‘black privilege’ sues university

IMAGE: Thomas Jefferson University

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About the Author
Matthew Giffin -- Middle Tennessee State University