Princeton fires tenured professor in campus controversy

Princeton fired a classical language professor Monday, “with immediate effect” after university officials discovered that he had not been completely honest and cooperative in an investigation into his sexual relationship with a student about 15 years ago.

The resignation of the professor, Joshua Katz, was a rare case of the resignation of a tenured professor, and came after a fierce debate on campus and in wider political spheres over whether he was the target of his politics. In 2020, he wrote an article in Quillette, an online magazine, criticizing anti-racist proposals from Princeton teachers, students and staff.

The university’s statement about the dismissal didn’t even hint at the issue of free speech. The reasons the university gave for dismissal were based on a “detailed written complaint from an alumna who had a consensual relationship with Dr. Katz while a student under his academic supervision.” That relationship was in 2006 and 2007, but the alumna did not file her complaint until 2021.

dr. Katz, 52, said Princeton had treated him with “gross dishonesty” after giving his “entire career” to college.

“I’m both angry and heartbroken, which is a terrible combination,” he said in a text message Monday night.

His attorney, Samantha Harris, said the university’s allegation that Dr. Katz had tried to obstruct the investigation into his sexual relationship with the student was a “mischaracterization.”

And she said: “The university’s decision will have a powerfully chilling effect on free speech, because anyone who would want to express a controversial opinion knows that they must first ask themselves whether their personal lives can withstand the kind of relentless scrutiny that Dr. Katz’s life began just days after the publication of his Quillette article.”

Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber addressed the debate on Dr. Katz admitted during Saturday’s comments to alumni who had returned to campus for reunions.

He defended his record of freedom of speech and said the university should act if teachers violated rules of conduct.

“We take those rules very seriously here and we believe that a faculty member is bound by those obligations, no matter how distinguished they are, and no matter what their political views are,” he said. “Political views are no reason to investigate anyone. Nor are they a defense for investigating anyone.”

The university’s statement said a 2021 study identified “several instances where Dr. Katz misrepresented the facts or was not clear” during the 2018 investigation into the student’s relationship.

One such case, the statement said, was “a successful attempt to discourage the alumna from participating and cooperating after expressing her intention to do so.” The investigation also found that “Dr. Katz exposed the alumna to harm while she was a student by discouraging her from seeking mental health care even though he knew she was in need, all in an effort to hide a relationship he knew had been banned by university rules,” the statement said.

These actions, the statement said, were “not only gross violations of university policy, but also completely contrary to his obligations as a faculty member.”

Ms. Harris said investigators are discussing things between Dr. Katz and his former student were said to have processed during outbursts of anger and frustration at a stressful time and turned them into much more damning statements, which were belied by the context he provided in concurrent emails.

dr. Katz and his allies pointed out that he had already been punished – by being suspended – for the relationship, claiming it was a pretext to get revenge on him for the Quillette article. The article criticized anti-racist proposals in a July 2020 letter signed by more than 300 Princeton educators, students and staff.

In the most quoted and maligned element of his article, he referred to a student group, the Black Justice League, as a “small local terrorist organization” that had made the lives of many students, including black students, miserable.

The resignation was expected after Princeton’s president, Mr. Eisgruber, recommended his resignation in a May 10 letter to the chairman of the board of trustees.

The dismissal did not go smoothly. When told that Princeton had announced his resignation, Dr. Katz’s wife, Solveig Gold, said, “That’s news to me. We have nothing.” She added: “It’s pretty damning that we don’t have it ourselves.”

She later said that Dr. Katz had discovered that the message from the university that he was being fired had been sent to the wrong email.

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