In the middle of a campus controversy, Princeton fires a tenured professor
The university said that Joshua Katz was fired because of his inappropriate behavior with a female student. He says the problem is how people talk about a campus protest group.
A Princeton classics professor was fired “effective immediately” on Monday after the university’s administration found that he had not been completely honest and helpful during an investigation into his sexual relationship with an undergraduate student about 15 years ago.
Joshua Katz was a tenured professor who was fired, which doesn’t happen very often. His firing came after a heated debate on campus and in the wider political world about whether he was targeted because of his politics. In 2020, he wrote an article for Quillette, an online journal, in which he criticized ideas by Princeton faculty, students, and staff that were meant to fight racism.
In its statement about the firing, the university didn’t even mention the free speech issue. The university’s decision to fire him was based on a “detailed written complaint from an alumna who had a consensual relationship with Dr. Katz while she was an undergraduate under his academic supervision.” That relationship happened in 2006 and 2007, but the alumna didn’t file her complaint until 2021.
Dr. Katz didn’t say anything right away. But Dr. Katz wasn’t surprised by his firing, his lawyer Samantha Harris said.
She said that the university’s claim that Dr. Katz tried to stop the investigation into his sexual relationship with the student was a “mischaracterization.”
She also said, “The university’s decision will have a powerful chilling effect on free speech, because anyone who might want to express a controversial opinion knows that they must first ask themselves if their personal life can stand up to the kind of constant scrutiny that Dr. Katz’s life was put through starting just days after the publication of his Quillette article.”
Christopher Eisgruber, the president of Princeton, talked about the debate over Dr. Katz on Saturday when he spoke to alumni who had come back to campus for reunions.
He defended his record on free speech and said that when faculty members broke conduct rules, the university had to do something.
“We take these rules very seriously here, and we think that every faculty member has to follow them, no matter how well-known they are or what their political beliefs are,” he said. “No one should be looked into because of their political views. They are also not a reason to look into anyone.”
In a statement, the university said that a 2021 investigation “found multiple times when Dr. Katz misrepresented facts or didn’t tell the truth” during a 2018 investigation into the relationship with the student.
In one of these cases, the statement said, “an effort to stop the alumna from taking part and cooperating was successful after she said she wanted to do so.” The investigation also found that “Dr. Katz put the alumna in danger while she was a student by discouraging her from getting mental health care even though he knew she was in trouble.” He did this to hide a relationship that he knew was against university rules.
The statement said that these actions were “not only clear violations of university policy, but also completely at odds with his duties as a faculty member.”
Ms. Harris said that investigators had taken things said by Dr. Katz and his former student during angry and frustrated outbursts during a stressful time and made them into much more damaging statements, which were contradicted by the context he gave in emails sent at the same time.
Dr. Katz and his supporters said that he had already been punished for the relationship by being suspended. They said that it was being brought up again as a way to punish him for the Quillette article. The article was critical of anti-racist ideas in a letter from July 2020 that was signed by more than 300 faculty, students, and staff from Princeton.
In the part of his article that has been quoted and criticized the most, he called a student group called the Black Justice League a “small local terrorist organization” that had made the lives of many students, including Black students, miserable.
In a letter to the chair of the board of trustees on May 10, Princeton’s president, Mr. Eisgruber, suggested that he be fired. This meant that the firing was likely to happen.
The firing did not go as planned. When she heard that Dr. Katz had been fired, Dr. Katz’s wife, Solveig Gold, said, “I didn’t know that. “We’ve got nothing.” She also said, “It’s a shame we don’t have it ourselves.”
She later said that Dr. Katz had found out that the university had sent the notice of his firing to the wrong email address.