In July 2020, as social justice protests raged across the nation, Joshua Katz, a Princeton classics professor, wrote in a small influential magazine that some suggestions by teachers to fight racism at Princeton would fuel a “civil war on campus” and condemned a student group, Black The Justice League as a “small local terrorist organization” because of its tactics of insisting on institutional change.
Quillette’s remarks made him a lightning rod in the debate on free speech on campus, swearing at some who considered what he said racist, and swearing at others who defended his right to do so. And they raised a signal that led to the study of other aspects of his life, including his behavior with female students.
In the latest outcome of this debate, President Princeton recommended firing Dr. Katz, according to a May 10 letter from the president addressed to the chairman of the trustees.
But the incumbent professor is not threatened with dismissal for speaking. His work is at stake for the fact that a university report says he did not talk about having sex with a student 15 years ago for which he has already been punished.
Michael Hochkis, a spokesman for Princeton, said the university “usually does not comment on staffing issues”.
Dr. Katz declined to be interviewed. But his lawyer, Samantha Harris, said she expected trustees to fire him. “In our view, this is the culmination of the witch hunt, which began a few days after Professor Katz published an article in Quillette that led people to call for an end to it,” Ms. Harris said Thursday.
Dean of Princeton Faculty Gene A. Jarrett rejected this view. In a 10-page report dated November 30, 2021, the dean detailed the reasons for Dr. Katz’s dismissal. Dr Jarrett referred to what he said was Dr. Katz’s assertion that there was a “straight line” from Quillette’s article to the investigation into the misconduct.
“I have considered Professor Katz’s statement and determined that the current political climate at the university, imaginary or real, is irrelevant and does not play a role in my recommendation,” Dr. Jarrett wrote. This document became the basis for the president’s recommendation.
The case deeply divided the campus. Many students were already furious because of his Quillette article. And the potential dismissal has only fueled controversy – between those who see this as a subtle disguise of revenge for insulting remarks, and those who believe that the furor over his remarks about race accidentally exposed additional disturbing behavior.
Dr. Katz, 52, has also become a landmark cause among a number of conservative observers, some of whom say his case represents a disturbing escalation of the debate on free speech on campuses, where non-orthodox expression is not a matter of protected speech but a stain on character. which justifies excavating past grievances to remove it. An article about Dr. Katz in The American Conservative last year was called “Persecution and Propaganda at Princeton.”
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“This is the world we want to live in, where you express an opinion that others don’t like, and suddenly your personal life is turned inside out, looking for evidence to destroy you?” Said his lawyer Mrs. Harris.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber has cultivated a reputation as a defender of freedom of speech. The University has adopted the “Chicago Principles,” a commitment to freedom of speech, even if offensive, that has been articulated at the University of Chicago. He defended other controversial speeches, including skepticism about the transgender identity of another professor, Robert P. George, director of James Madison’s university program at American Ideals and Institutions.
Eddie C. Glaude Jr., chair of African-American studies and a critic of Dr. Katz’s language, said attributing his problems to his speech was an “unscrupulous argument” that was “completely incompatible” with Mr. Eisgruber’s past statements in support of free speech.
As for the view that Dr. Katz was persecuted, “it looks like someone is positioning themselves to play a role in the current iteration of cultural wars,” Dr. Glaude said.
The saga began with an open letter to the Princeton leadership on Independence Day in 2020, when protests against the murder of George Floyd by police and demands for racial justice unfolded across the country. The first sentence read: “Anti-Chernoism is fundamental to America.”
The letter called on the university to take “immediate concrete and material steps to openly and publicly acknowledge that anti-black racism and racism of any strip continue to flourish on campus,” and proposed 48 proposals for reform. It was signed by more than 300 teachers.
Among the well-known signatories of the letter were Dr. Glau; Dan el Padilla Peralta, a Roman historian of Dominican descent who wrote that the field of classics is inextricably mixed with the predominance of whites; and Tracy K. Smith, a former laureate of the American poet who has since left Princeton.
One of the demands was that Princeton “recognize, encourage and encourage anti-racist student activity”, starting with the “official apology of state universities” to members of the Black Justice League who met resistance from the institution when they campaigned, a few years before. named after President Woodrow Wilson of the School of Public and International Affairs.
Four days later, Dr. Katz, who repeatedly called himself a non-politician, published his response, the “Declaration of Independence of the Princeton Professor.”
He said that while some of the signatories of the letter may have believed in their declaration, he thought that peer pressure played a bigger role and that others had not actually read it. He, he wrote, was embarrassed for them.
And although he agreed with some requirements, such as giving allowances for summer relocations to new associate professors, he wrote that he disagreed with others, such as giving an additional semester of academic leave to junior color teachers.
He also described the Black Justice League as “a small local terrorist organization that has made life bitter for many (including many black students) who disagreed with the demands of its members.” He described fans of the group as “asking for blood” during a “fight session” recorded on Instagram Live, which he said was “one of the most evil things I’ve ever witnessed.”
The reaction to Dr. Katz’s views was swift and strong. Mr Eisgruber told the university newspaper that he “personally and strongly opposes his false characterization” of the student group as a terrorist organization.
Several of Dr. Katz’s colleagues in the Department of Classics, including Chairman Attie Flower and Chairman of the Committee on Justice and Inclusion Andrew Feldher, distanced themselves from him by temporarily posting a message on the department’s website stating that Dr. Katz’s language was “disgusting in this is the moment of national calculation. “
A university spokesman said at the time that Princeton would “consider the matter”, but no investigation took place. Dr. Katz noted in July 2020 an article in the Wall Street Journal “I Survived the Cancellation at Princeton”.
But with attention to Dr. Katz, the student newspaper The Daily Princetonian has launched an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him. The culmination of this was a lengthy report in February 2021 about his sexual relationship with a student.
Princeton already knew about her. The university began an investigation after learning about the relationship in late 2017, and Dr. Katz confessed to the novel by arrangement. He is quietly fired without a salary for a year.
The Princetonian also reported that Dr. Katz caused inconvenience to at least two other women by taking them to expensive dinners – and in one case commenting on the woman’s appearance and giving her gifts. All three women were identified by pseudonyms, and could not be reached for comment.
Dr Katz’s lawyer said there had been no sexual abuse. Over the years he has invited many students, men and women, to dinner, she said – “so much that he has no idea who it is.”
The woman did not sexually cooperate with Princeton’s original investigation. But after the Princeton report, she filed a formal complaint that prompted the administration to launch a new investigation, which she said was looking at new issues rather than reviewing old violations, the university report said.
Princeton claimed that Dr. Katz discouraged the woman from seeking mental treatment while they were together, fearing to reveal their relationship; that he pressured her not to cooperate with the investigation in 2018; and that he obstructed this investigation was not entirely honest and inaccessible, the report said.
Dr. Katz’s wife, Solveig Gold, said he lost many friends because of the dispute. “No one wants to be seen in his presence, in his company, in his friendship,” she said.
27-year-old Mrs. Gold, who is graduating with a Ph.D. received a classic at Cambridge University, graduated from Princeton in 2017. She said she was his student, but at the time there was no romantic relationship between them. They married in July 2021.
Ms. Gold said her husband had several job offers. “The abolished have a way of taking care of each other,” she said. “But none of them is the job he loved to do all his life.”
Some of Dr. Katz’s colleagues view his Quillette article as a lesson. It was included on the university’s “To Be Famous and Heard” website, which touches on Princeton and systemic racism. The site contains a historical essay on the controversy over freedom of speech, ranging from minstrels to quotes from his article.
The chronicle says: “Throughout its history, Princeton has struggled to cross the ‘line’ between freedom of speech and freedom of expression, as well as racist statements and actions.”
Shyla McNeill contributed to the research.