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College instructor outed by student for calling COVID-19 'the Chinese virus' is placed on leave

'These types of xenophobic comments and stigmatizations around location or ethnicity are more than troubling'

Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

A University of Cincinnati adjunct instructor who was outed by one of his students for referring to COVID-19 as "the Chinese virus" has been placed on administrative leave with pay, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, citing documents.

What's the background?

A school investigation was launched after third-year engineering student Evan Sotzing, 20, posted on Twitter an email he received from adjunct instructor John Ucker, the paper said. The email came after Sotzing had to miss a lab session due to being quarantined for possible exposure to the novel coronavirus, the Enquirer noted.

"For students testing positive for the chinese [sic] virus, I will give no grade," the email says, according to the paper. "You can read the info I sent to the class re: the torsion test."

Sotzing's post has gone viral:

"I think that the school should take disciplinary actions against the professor because [his] actions completely violate the school's values," Sotzing told the Enquirer last week, adding that he's offended by Ucker's "racist language" and that he's concerned his instructor might punish students for adhering to national, state, and local health guidelines.

What happened next?

The paper reported that UC's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences Dean John Weidner sent an email to Ucker Friday morning saying his courses will be handled by another faculty member for the time being.

"As you are aware, a student in one of your courses has raised a concern regarding one of your emails. This matter has been referred to UC's Office of Equal Opportunity and Access ("OEOA") for review," the email reads, according to the Enquirer. "As such, effective immediately you are being placed on an administrative leave with pay pending the outcome of that review."

Ucker's "full cooperation" with the OEOA review is "both expected and appreciated," Weidner added in the email, the paper noted.

The Enquirer noted that the following morning, Weidner confirmed the matter was referred for review to the OEOA, which handles matters concerning discrimination, harassment, or retaliation based on disability, race, color, religion, national origin, and other identities.

"These types of xenophobic comments and stigmatizations around location or ethnicity are more than troubling," Weidner wrote to the Enquirer. "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."

Anything else?

Ucker's personnel file indicates he's taught at the university since 1996, the paper reported, and that an August letter states he was offered an adjunct position in the College of Engineering and Applied Science effective Aug. 24 through Dec. 12 for $3,600.

"Your appointment is contingent upon student enrollment, program need and student evaluation, and the University reserves the right to change or withdraw course offerings, instructors or schedules as these factors are evaluated and assessed," the letter reads, according to the Enquirer.

The letter also states three requirements expected of Ucker, the paper said: To hold two office hours per week; to not miss any classes; and to "do a good job teaching and taking care of the students."

Ucker as of Tuesday did not reply to an email from the Enquirer sent last week.

UC student: Adjunct professor gave student 0 on lab because he was in quarantine youtu.be

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