Will a Princeton professor be fired for upsetting campus activists?

Princeton University’s Board of Trustees has voted to fire humanities scholar Joshua Katz and revoke his term, allegedly over allegations related to a sexual misconduct investigation. But Katz’s defenders say he is the latest victim of the “abandonment culture” to be punished for criticizing anti-racist initiatives on campus in a July 2020 essay for online magazine Quillette.

The faculty member whose report led to the unusual crackdown on the staff professor says his conclusions had nothing to do with Katz’s controversial statements. But is that just spin? Or is there a legitimate reason for Katz being fired from a job on fabricated allegations to punish him for wrong thinking?

Obviously, not every claim of “abandon culture” is justified, and some misconduct calculations take years to prove true. But here the argument for “witch hunt” is pretty strong.

Yes, Katz committed sexual and professional inappropriateness by having a consensual relationship with an undergraduate student under his academic supervision about 15 years ago. The problem is that the university had formally dealt with this violation back in 2018 – eventually suspending him for a year without pay, asking him for counseling and putting him on probation for three years.

The new investigation and Katz’s subsequent dismissal are technically based on new allegations: that Katz did not fully cooperate with the 2018 investigation and that he discouraged the student from seeking psychological counseling at the time of the relationship. But there are still strong overtones of double jeopardy, ie punishing someone twice for the same offence.

Furthermore, there is little doubt that the new investigation was prompted by the political controversy surrounding Katz and his unpopular views.

“The real message is that you can and will be punished for going against campus activist orthodoxy — even if it requires double jeopardy.”

On July 4, 2020, at the height of the racist “settlement” that followed the police killing of George Floyd, an open letter to Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber and the administration was released, detailing a massive initiative to combat racism at school was demanded online with around 300 faculty signatures. The list of 48 demands included a grab bag of items from the Social Justice wish list: comprehensive “anti-prejudice training,” support for anti-racist student activism, reconsidering the use of standardized tests in admissions, and more.

A few days later, Katz published his response. While agreeing to some of the letter’s suggestions — such as expanding a scholarship program that encourages underrepresented minorities to pursue academic careers — he sharply criticized its overall thrust. In particular, he felt that many of the demands would not only impose a new academic orthodoxy, but would penalize dissenting opinions. He was particularly dismayed by an article calling for a new faculty committee to “oversee the faculty’s investigation and disciplining of racist conduct, incidents, research and publication” (based on committee-developed guidelines defining such offenses). ). While emphasizing that racial abuse and discrimination should be disciplined, Katz argued that policing science is an unacceptable violation of academic freedom.

The article sparked a violent backlash from faculty, students, and alumni.

Katz was particularly outraged by his reference to a defunct student group, the Black Justice League, which was recognized in the faculty letter as “a small local terrorist organization”. (Katz argued that this description was based on the group’s alleged history of bullying students, including black students, who disagreed with their agenda.) University President Eisgruber condemned this comment as irresponsible, but also emphasized that “students and faculty freedom of expression allows arguments that are bold, provocative or even offensive.”

Four months later, the student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian—who had reported extensively on the controversy — ran an editorial urging Princeton to take a tougher stance against “racist language” and criticizing Eisgruber for adhering to a “stubborn free speech policy” that put “an abstract principle” ahead of the Grant well-being of parishioners. Being. One of the two sample speeches in the editorial that should have been sanctioned was the article by Katz.

That was in November 2020.

A few months later, in February 2021, the Princetonian published a lengthy investigative article based on interviews with 18 alumni and faculty members accusing Katz of a “history of inappropriate behavior toward female students.” The piece not only revealed the confidential case involving his relationship with the student, but also discussed allegations from two other alumnae who said he committed “repeated boundary violations” as their mentor – including single meals, gifts such as “chocolates”. and tea from his trips abroad,” overly personal conversations and sharing faculty gossip. One of the women had mentioned her unease about Katz’s behavior after graduation to another professor and an administrative clerk, and Katz was apparently counseled on “appropriate boundaries of faculty-student friendships.” No woman claimed sexual harassment or romantic overtures; nor the Princetonian Article heavily implied that Katz was a serial sex plot.

After the article appeared, the woman who was sexually involved with Katz — and who had not cooperated in the 2018 investigation — filed a complaint, and the investigation was reopened.

Without knowing all the details, it’s impossible to say for sure how substantive the new charges were. (Katz’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.) It’s worth noting that while the complaint contained allegations of sexual harassment, Princeton’s Title IX coordinator denied that allegation, noting that both Katz and the student ” willing and active participants”. ”

One can agree or disagree with Katz’s critique of the Princeton faculty letter (I think it mostly hit the mark). One can also certainly feel that his comment on “terrorist group” was unnecessarily inflammatory (I think he went too far). Most people would agree that he showed poor judgment in his previous romantic relationship with a college student. It is also possible that his openly admitted close relationships with the students he mentored sometimes exceeded the bounds of proper behavior.

But two things seem obvious.

First, the retrial of an already settled case was the result of events set in motion by the backlash against Katz’s essay. Second, the university had already pilloried Katz prior to his dismissal by spotlighting him in a presentation on racism at Princeton as part of mandatory freshman orientation last August. (The presentation quoted Katz’s outrageous comment about the Black Justice League while omitting his comments about bullying black students.)

When New York University social psychologist Jonathan Haidt commented on Katz’s firing on Twitter consternation In Princeton’s pursuit of “dissidents,” some scathing replies suggested he was mistaking sexual shenanigans for dissent. (One of Haidt’s critics, University of Kansas law professor Corey Rayburn Yung, wrongly claimed (e.g., that Katz was fired for “sexually molesting” students.) But Haidt is right, and the idea that Katz’s firing had nothing to do with the controversy over his opinion fails the laugh test.

There’s no question that Katz’s criticism of the faculty letter was a thorn in Princeton’s side. Punishing him for his views, or even his occasionally over-the-top language, would have led to credible allegations that Princeton was “calling away” the professor to appease a left-wing mob.

But Eisgruber, who has tried to walk a fine line balancing a commitment to free speech and advocacy for social justice, was still under pressure to show that racism is taken seriously. When the opportunity presented itself to investigate a case of misconduct in which Katz had already been disciplined, the university seized it.

This is not a win for justice and accountability, or a lesson for professors about the responsible treatment of students under their authority. The real message is that you can and will be punished for going against campus activist orthodoxy — even if it requires double jeopardy.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/will-a-princeton-professor-be-fired-for-pissing-off-campus-activists?source=articles&via=rss Will a Princeton professor be fired for upsetting campus activists?


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: hung@interreviewed.com.

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