Princeton professor claims he was fired for his view on campus politics
A tenured Princeton University classics professor who was fired this week has claimed that the move was in retaliation for his criticism of faculty demands over racial policies.
Princeton said on Monday that professor Joshua Katz, 51, had been fired after he ‘failed to be straightforward’ in a 2018 misconduct probe regarding his relationship with a student.
But in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Katz alleged that he was truly fired for ‘publicly criticizing a number of “antiracist” demands, some of them clearly racist and illegal’ that hundreds of his colleagues circulated in an open letter.
The open letter in July 2020, shortly after the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests over racial justice, demanded among other things additional compensation and sabbatical time for ‘faculty of color’.
Katz responded with a sharply worded essay criticizing many of the demands, and now he alleges that it is this dissenting view, rather than his previously litigated romance with a student, that led to his termination by the board of trustees.
Princeton said on Monday that professor Joshua Katz, 51, had been fired after he ‘failed to be straightforward’ in a 2018 misconduct probe regarding his relationship with a student
The move by Eisgruber, 60, is being viewed by many as a politically motivated one, with many accusing the university of targeting Katz for his outspoken criticism of the school’s liberal staff and policies and not for the settled misconduct claims
Princeton said in a statement to The New York Times that Katz was fired after officials received a ‘detailed written complaint from an alumna who had a consensual relationship with Dr. Katz while she was an undergraduate under his academic supervision.’
The complaint was filed in 2021. Following an investigation on the back of the complaint, the school discovered ‘multiple instances in which Dr. Katz misrepresented facts or failed to be straightforward,’ during the original 2018 probe.
Katz was fired following a vote by the Princeton University’s board of trustees – who were voting on recommendations from the school’s president Christopher Eisgruber, 60, and Gene Jarrett, Princeton’s dean of faculty.
In his op-ed, Katz admitted that the issues surrounding his termination ‘aren’t easy to summarize’ but claimed that he had been subjected to ‘cultural double jeopardy’ in being fired for an offense he’d previously admitted to and been disciplined for.
According to Katz, the school failed to notify him that he had been fired and that they sent an email to the wrong address.
The professor said that he only learned of his termination from his wife, who learned of the news herself when she was contacted by The New York Times, Katz told the National Review.
In 2018, Katz was suspended by the school without pay for a year due to his consensual relationship with the student. That relationship occurred in 2006.
Katz’s lawyer Samantha Harris told the National Review that the professor offered to resign in the weeks leading up to his dismissal.
Harris said: ‘I think that it speaks to the climate of pressure in these politically charged situations, that they felt that they absolutely couldn’t forgo the ability to say, ‘We were going to fire him.’
Separately, Harris told The New York Times: ‘In our view, this is the culmination of the witch hunt that began days after Professor Katz published an article in Quillette that led people to call for his termination.’
The move by University President Christopher Eisgruber has many accusing the university of targeting Katz for his criticism of the school’s liberal staff and racial politics
There had been calls for Katz to be fired for years following student uproar over the educator’s criticism of liberal school policies and racial politics that emerged after the police killing of George Floyd in 2020.
The 2021 probe came shortly after Katz said he was ’embarrassed’ by a slew of questionable policies passed by the New Jersey university after the May 2020 murder of Floyd.
Some of the programs Katz found fault with were a campaign to address the school’s ‘racist’ history and requests to give black professors more sabbatical time and higher salaries than their white counterparts.
Katz, who started teaching at Princeton in 1998, slammed the school’s proposals in an essay published to online magazine Quillette in July 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests and other racial justice movements quickly spread across the country.
In the op-ed, titled A Declaration of Independence by a Princeton Professor, Katz said the ‘proposals, if implemented, would lead to civil war on campus and erode even further public confidence in how elite institutions of higher education operate.’
He also said of the proposals, aired in a 4,100-word Princeton Faculty letter signed by students, staff, and alumni, that he was ’embarrassed’ for his colleagues that signed it.
‘I am friends with many people who signed the Princeton letter, which requests and in some places demands a dizzying array of changes, and I support their right to speak as they see fit,’ Katz wrote.
‘But I am embarrassed for them,’ he went on. ‘To judge from conversations with friends and all too much online scouting, there are two camps: those cheering them on and those who wouldn’t dream of being associated with such a document. No one is in the middle.’
The investigation, which looked into a relationship Katz had with a student in 2006, saw the tenured professor suspended, and was subsequently resolved internally. However, more than a year later, a second student-led probe aired claims that the professor didn’t fully cooperate and misled investigators during the 2018 inquiry
He then urged onlookers to read the letter, which was addressed to President Eisgruber and other senior administrators at the university, citing how the policies broke students and school staffers’ first amendment rights.
The essay also saw Katz denounce the extremist student group that pushed for the policies, the Black Justice League, as ‘a small local terrorist organization’ after it successfully lobbied to have former President Woodrow Wilson’s name removed from the university’s School of Public and International Affairs, due to his support of racial segregation.
The campaign saw 30 student’s stage a sit-in inside President Eisgruber’s office, until that demand, along with others that included mandatory cultural competency training for staff and a cultural safe space on campus reserved for black students, was met.
Katz went on to pan the group for asking for ‘a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty,’ warning of the implications it would have on staffers’ free speech.
‘This scares me more than anything else,’ Katz wrote. ‘For colleagues to police one another’s research and publications in this way would be outrageous.’
He went on: ‘Let me be clear: Racist slurs and clear and documentable bias against someone because of skin color are reprehensible and should lead to disciplinary action, for which there is already a process.
‘But is there anyone who doesn’t believe that this committee would be a star chamber with a low bar for cancellation, punishment, suspension, even dismissal.’
The coalition of students from Princeton University have been widely panned by academics and onlookers alike for their extremist views, that Katz said were ’emboldened’ by social unrest seen in the wake of Floyd’s death.
The essay also saw Katz denounce the extremist student group that pushed for the policies, the Black Justice League, as ‘a small local terrorist organization.’ Pictured are members of the group during one of their many protests in 2020 after the death of George Floyd
The group, which Katz said was ’emboldened by the social unrest seen after Floyd’s death, staged more protests after the professor’s remarks disparaged the school and their group
He said its over 200 supporters ‘were baying for blood’ with their ever-increasing number of demonstrations and demands.
Days later, President Christopher Eisgruber responded with his own op-ed, which slammed Katz’s remarks as ‘irresponsible and offensive.’
‘The ongoing controversy about classics professor Joshua Katz and the Black Justice League illustrates the point,’ Eisgruber wrote. ‘The Black Justice League was a group of non-violent student activists who protested about Woodrow Wilson’s racism and other issues.
‘Their arguments and rhetoric, even if others found them provocative or offensive, were protected by Princeton’s commitment to the freedom of speech.’
He went on: ‘When Katz disparaged the group last week as a “terrorist organization,” I was among those who found his statement irresponsible and offensive.
‘Our policies, however, protect Katz’s freedom to say what he did, just as they protected the Black Justice League’s. He can be answered but not censored or sanctioned.’
Two years later, the school launched its investigation into Katz over the sexual misconduct claims.
Beginning in 2006, Katz, then 36, engaged in a romantic relationship with one of his of-age students, then a junior, until after her graduation in 2007.
Twelve years later, a school investigation found Katz violated school policy prohibiting sexual relationships between teachers and the students by engaging with the relationship with the unnamed student, who refused to participate in the school’s probe.
He was promptly suspended, and returned to work at the school in 2019.
However, in 2021, the school’s newspaper investigated the relationship themselves, prompting the second investigation – and shortly after Katz’ standoff with school brass over its policies.
The school probe found two violations of school policy – the first being that Katz didn’t ‘fully cooperate with and misled investigators,’ and that he discouraged the former student from seeking psychiatric help when she threatened self-harm.
The revelations then led to more protests from students, who demanded Katz be fired for the reported misconduct.
Eisgruber cited those reasons in his written recommendation for dismissal, first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
Revelations concerning a romantic relationship Katz had with a student in 2006 saw Katz become the victim of a student campaign that he be fired in 2020. Those findings came after a second investigation into the misconduct was launched shortly after Katz criticized university brass and school activists for policies he deemed un-American
As a result of the probe, Katz was placed on paid administrative leave back in July.
Now, his termination has free-speech and conservative advocates across the globe up in arms.
‘With the firing of Professor Katz, Princeton will have sent a message,’ Edward Yingling, co-founder of Princetonians for Free Speech, reportedly said.
‘If a faculty member or student says something that contradicts our orthodoxy, we will get you – if not for what you said, then by twisting your language, by using the extensive resources of the university to shame you before the student body, and by investigating your personal life for years past.’
Faculty dean Gene Jarrett, meanwhile, who signed Eisgruber’s letter calling for Katz’s nixing, denied that politics played a part in the school’s second probe into Katz.
‘The current political climate of the University, whether perceived or real, is not germane to the case, nor does it play a role in my recommendation,’ Jarrett reportedly wrote in the investigation summary.