A professor from the University of Cincinnati who referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” in an email to one of his students has been released from the school ahead of next semester, a report says.
John L. Ucker, an adjunct professor for the university’s College of Engineering and Applied Science, will not have his contract renewed after an email he sent to a student in September which explained that he would miss a lab because of potential exposure to the disease, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer on Monday.
“For students testing positive for the chinese [sic] virus, I will give no grade,” the message from Ucker’s university email account is reported to have said. “You can read the info I sent to the class re: torsion test.”
Just one day later engineering student Evan Sotzing shared the email to Twitter, where it is said to have received almost 200,000 interactions, and Ucker was immediately put on administrative leave with pay.
The 20-year-old student said to WKRC that his objective was to get a “sincere apology” from Ucker before noting that he was appalled “anyone in power” would use such a contentious turn of phrase.
“I really just want him to apologize,” said Solzing, a UC engineering student. “I want a sincere apology for his comment.”
“I was shocked at first that anyone in power, any professor, would say that because of how xenophobic it is and how much of a racist comment it is,” he continued.
“I would prefer to think all the professors here are very broadminded and they wouldn’t really generalize in that sense, so it does bother me a little bit,” remarked Anusha Prakash, a student of Asian descent who says she is also offended.
The university’s dean of engineering and applied sciences addressed the issue to its Office of Equal Opportunity and Access while outright condemning the so-called “xenophobic” email.
“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,” dean John Weidner said to the Enquirer in September.
In November, Weidner revealed that Ucker would not be allowed back in the classroom for at least the rest of the fall semester.
“As an isolated reference, the term ‘Chinese virus’ did not meet the threshold to be designated harassment,” Weidner explained in a statement. “However, it did represent poor judgment, caused offense to members of our community, and distracted from the learning environment.”
Ucker, who has been employed at the university since 1996, had been offered a position as an adjunct instructor with the engineering college beginning in late August and going through mid-December.
A spokesperson from the university announced Friday that Ucker’s contract as an adjunct professor was not renewed. He was not available for comment as of Monday, the outlet reported.
In the meantime, the president of the university demanded an end to “hate and violence” against Asian Americans last week, as a response to 21-year-old suspected gunman Robert Aaron Long’s arrest for the murder of six women of Asian descent along with two other people at massage parlors in the Atlanta area. Authorities in Atlanta say they have no evidence the shooting was motivated by racial hate.
“As a nation, we must do more to abolish bigotry and protect and celebrate difference,” university president Neville Pinto stated. “As a campus community, we must show our strength in unity by standing with our Asian American students, faculty, staff and alumni to renounce all forms of hate and violence.”