Princeton Targets a Dissenting Professor

Princeton University

Photo: Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Everyone knows American universities are dangerous places these days if you dare to express unpopular views. But Princeton University’s handling of classics professor Joshua Katz is still shocking for its procedural double jeopardy.

This week brought grim news for Joshua Katz, a classics professor who drew ire on campus in 2020 after criticizing a faculty letter on race relations. The Journal reported Thursday that Princeton president Christopher Eisgruber has asked the university’s trustees to fire Mr. Katz, who has tenure. The official complaint is a procedural charge, based on Mr. Katz’s supposed noncompliance in an investigation into his relationship with a student.

Princeton found in 2018 that the professor had maintained a consensual sexual relationship with an undergraduate student more than a decade earlier. Mr. Katz was suspended for a year without pay. Yet the university opened a new investigation of his conduct after Mr. Katz publicly criticized a faculty letter on race relations in 2020.

His colleagues decided the second time around that Mr. Katz hadn’t been fully forthright in the first investigation, and concluded that he could be punished again. The dean of faculty insists that Mr. Katz’s politics “is not germane to the case.” And if you believe that, you have been living in a cave off-campus.

Yet Mr. Eisgruber claims the proposed firing has nothing to do with political speech.

Mr. Katz became a target the moment he criticized a statement signed by hundreds of his colleagues that called for radical changes to Princeton’s policies on race and employment. In the weeks after George Floyd’s murder, the faculty authors sought specific concessions for nonwhite professors, including “course relief and summer salary.”

Mr. Katz responded by asserting the principle that all races should be treated equally. He suggested that progressive advocacy groups had worsened the intellectual climate on campus, and he referred to the Black Justice League as “a small local terrorist organization,” saying it had intimidated students.

Mr. Eisgruber condemned Mr. Katz “personally and strongly” for such language. But Mr. Katz wrote an article in these pages while the controversy raged, announcing that “the administration is not investigating me.” He even praised Princeton for standing up for free speech.

He underestimated the determination of his critics to purge a dissenting voice. The same week that Princeton’s trustees discussed Mr. Katz’s fate, they praised Mr. Eisgruber for his “outspoken defense of free speech.” The world now knows how hollow those words are.


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