UC professor who called COVID-19 ‘the Chinese virus’ asked not to return

University of Cincinnati
University of Cincinnati(Courtesty of UC Creative + Brand)
Updated: Mar. 22, 2021 at 11:44 AM EDT
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CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - The University of Cincinnati did not renew a contract with a professor accused of calling COVID-19 “the Chinese virus” in a September email to a student, according to university spokesperson M.B. Reilly.

Our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer say that the university launched an investigation after third-year engineering student Evan Sotzing emailed then College of Engineering and Applied Science adjunct instructor John Ucker that he would have to miss an in-person lab due to possible COVID-19 exposure.

In emails forwarded to The Enquirer, Sotzing wrote that he had been told not to attend any in-person classes for two weeks.

“For students testing positive for the chinese (sic) virus, I will give no grade,” Ucker responded.

Sotzing posted a screenshot of the email on social media, which received nearly 200,000 interactions. Shortly afterward, UC’s Dean of Engineering and Applied Science, John Weidner, said he was “looking into it” and referred the matter for review to the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Access. That department handles inquiries regarding discrimination, harassment or retaliation based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin and other identities, according to their website.

“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 wrote to The Enquirer at the time.

Neither Ucker nor Weidner could be reached for comment Monday morning, according to our media partners at the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Increased numbers of Asian Americans have reported harassment and even physical assaults amid political rhetoric blaming China for the pandemic from former President Donald Trump and others. Locally, the family of Cincinnati-owned Chinese restaurants Oriental Wok spoke out in a social media post about the racist, violent threats they said they’ve endured this past year.

Ucker was put on administrative leave with pay in September pending the outcome of the investigation, according to an email from Weidner to Ucker.

In November, Weidner released a statement regarding the investigation and said Ucker’s leave would continue for the rest of the fall semester, at least.

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

According to Ucker’s personnel file, he had taught at UC since 1996. A letter sent in August states Ucker was offered an adjunct position in the engineering college effective Aug. 24 through Dec. 12. His compensation for the semester was documented at $3,600.

On Friday, Reilly told The Enquirer Ucker’s contract as an adjunct was not renewed. Ucker is still listed as an adjunct instructor on UC’s website.

UC President Neville Pinto released a statement on March 17 regarding anti-Asian rhetoric nationwide.

“Hate and violence against our Asian American communities is rising and reprehensible,” said Pinto, who was born in India and served 26 years on the faculty at the engineering college in his first stint at UC. “As a nation, we must do more to abolish bigotry and protect and celebrate difference. 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. The urgency has never been greater. Each of us must answer the call to act.”

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