College professor's illegal immigration comments cause stir on social media

Credit: Georgia Gwinnett College

Credit: Georgia Gwinnett College

A Georgia college professor's online comments about illegal immigrants have prompted some, including a state lawmaker, to say he should be reprimanded or fired.

The professor, a Chinese legal immigrant, says of the criticism: Bring it on.

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Fang Zhou, an associate history professor at Georgia Gwinnett College, is being criticized by some for using phrases such as "ghetto thugs" and "libtards" in social media conversations about illegal immigration and for saying he has a "Deportation of illegal immigrants" sign in his office.

He remarked: “I am against political correctness. I speak truth to power in class and my students learn about the financial drain of illegal immigration on the economy and the high crime rates of illegal immigrants. My students are ‘woke’ and are overwhelmingly against illegal immigration after taking my class.”

State Rep. Bee Nguyen, D-Atlanta, shared some of Zhou’s posts on Twitter late Wednesday in a message criticizing him. Nguyen said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Zhou was sharing “inflammatory terminology” and espousing “false narratives” about illegal immigrants, such as they commit more crime.

“Those myths have been disputed many times,” she said. “I have concerns about him teaching those things in a classroom.”

Nguyen, who in 2017 became the first Vietnamese-American elected to the Georgia House of Representatives, said she found the remarks particularly disturbing because of the college’s racial diversity. Nearly 70% of its students are African American, Asian or Hispanic. The lawmaker said she planned to write the college to voice her concerns. She noted U.S. House lawmakers passed a bill this week that would offer a path to U.S. citizenship for young, undocumented immigrants.

Some people who responded to Nguyen’s tweet said they have previously complained to the college about Zhou. The college sent the AJC its policies concerning freedom of expression for students and faculty but didn’t immediately respond to an interview request.

The college’s academic freedom policy allows faculty to speak without fear of censure, but reminds them that they “should remember that the public may judge [his/her] profession and [his/her] institution by [his/her] utterances.”

Zhou, who describes himself as an “active anti-illegal immigration activist” said he welcomed the criticism.

“Everybody has free speech, so (Nguyen’s) welcome to complain,” Zhou told the AJC.

Zhou, who began teaching at the college in 2010, said he does not force students to share his viewpoints and discusses other topics in his classroom.

He actively supported Republican Brian Kemp in his successful gubernatorial campaign last year and former Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, appearing at events for both candidates and posing for pictures with the now governor.

“If you are going to to reward illegal immigrants, there will be more illegal immigrants,” he said.

Zhou said he has plenty of students who disagree with his viewpoints, some have sent him hate mail. Critics, he said, must come with information to defend their position.

“To make a convincing argument, please present evidence,” Zhou said.

Zhou's comments are the latest made by faculty members and students at Georgia's public colleges and universities to come under fire. Earlier this year, critics called for the ouster of an African American teaching assistant at the University of Georgia who made comments some believe supported violence against whites. A student panel in May cleared the assistant, Irami Osei-Frimpong, of charges he falsified his graduate school application.

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