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Professor who referred to COVID-19 as ‘Wuhan Flu’ seeks reinstatement at SU

Emily Steinberger | Photo Editor

SU placed chemistry professor Jon Zubieta on administrative leave on Aug. 25.

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A Syracuse University professor placed on administrative leave for using derogatory language against Chinese, international and Asian American students on a course syllabus is working with a national campus free speech group to get the university to reinstate him.

SU placed chemistry professor Jon Zubieta on administrative leave Aug. 25 after images circulated online of his course syllabus, in which he referred to the coronavirus as “Wuhan Flu” and “Chinese Communist Party Virus.” The university said the language was “derogatory” and “offensive to Chinese, international and Asian-Americans.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education called on SU in a letter Tuesday to drop its investigation into Zubieta and immediately reinstate him. The group expects SU to fulfill its demands and respond to its letter by Sept. 30.

In a statement on the group’s website, Zubieta claimed the language on his syllabus was an attempt to mock “PC culture.” The statement is the first Zubieta has made regarding the incident.


“My intention was to mock the euphemistic conventions of PC culture rather than the Chinese people or their great heritage and traditions,” Zubieta wrote. “The actions of the university in placing me under suspension and in practice seemingly supporting the accusations of racism and Sinophobia are deeply disturbing.”

SU should follow its commitment to uphold freedom of expression and academic freedom, FIRE wrote in its letter, quoting the university’s free speech guidelines. The letter was addressed to Chancellor Kent Svyerud.

FIRE’s letter also argues that Zubieta’s language is not “discriminatory harassment,” and that professors have the right to discuss controversial subjects. 

“Syracuse isn’t just forging the path for censorship in American higher education, they’re paving it orange and blue,” said Zach Greenberg, the author of FIRE’s letter.

Over 300 SU faculty and staff signed a statement expressing support for Chinese students and condemning Zubieta’s language on his syllabus. Chinese international students said they found Zubieta’s language to be hurtful and disturbing. 


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