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Asian lawyer organizations condemn USD professor's comments

The blog post referenced China and the coronavirus.
Posted at 6:27 PM, Mar 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 12:37:07-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- Several Asian lawyer organizations are speaking up about a University of San Diego professor and comments he allegedly made on a personal blog. The professor is accused of using offensive language when referring to people from China.

A fellow USD professor confirmed the writer of the blog post is Professor Tom Smith.

The post from earlier this month references an article from the Wall Street Journal about coronavirus and Wuhan, China. In the post, the professor wrote “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 a whole lot of Chinese -------.”

“We think the students have raised valid concerns,” said Esther Bylsma, the president-elect of the Pan Asian Lawyers of San Diego. “We've seen across America that there's been hate incidents against Asian Americans that is being fueled by fear and misinformation.”

The Pan Asian Lawyers, along with the Filipino American Lawyers of San Diego and the Korean American Bar Association of San Diego, released a letter on Tuesday citing the professor’s “history of controversial statements.”

The letter goes on to say that students and other organizations have “expressed concerns that Professor Smith is creating a hostile learning environment” and that “his blog makes it clear that he is eager to court controversy despite his role as a teacher to many of the same individuals he disparages.”

The Japanese American Citizens League also condemned his comments, calling them “unprofessional and vulgar.” In a letter to Dean Robert Schapiro, the organization said the comments “were irresponsible in a year where Anti-Asian Hate Crimes have increased by nearly 150%.”

“As lawyers, we’re all about free speech,” Bylsma said. “We understand the importance of that and I would say actually, the students are exercising theirs as well.”

Blysma added that the students have invited the professor to talk to them, but he has not. “The lack of his response and his lack of his actual desire to actually talk to his students, I think that kind of demonstrates that the fallacy of the whole academic freedom argument,” she said.

ABC 10News reached out to Professor Smith for comment, but have not heard back.

Organizations such as the Academic Freedom Alliance and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have come to his defense.

The students who first brought attention to the professor’s comments are now receiving hate mail. One email to the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association told the students “we DO NOT want you here – so get the (expletive) out of AMERICA.”

Another email accused the students of being financed by the Chinese Communist Party. A third email said, “Screw ALL you Chinese (expletive) clowns.”

“I feel sad, angry, helpless and I think those three words are a lot of what you’re hearing from the Asian community as a whole,” Bylsma said.

In a previous statement, USD officials said there “will be a process to review whether university or law school policies have been violated.” The spokesperson added their policies “prohibit harassment, including the use of epithets, derogatory comments, or slurs based on race or national origin.”

When contacted again on Tuesday, a spokesperson said the matter is under review.