Klainerman-Eisgruber Email Exchange on Princeton Bureaucrats Smearing Katz as Racist

October 11, 2021 10 min read

Editor’s note:

Below is the exchange of emails between Professor Sergiu Klainerman and Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber about the administration’s attacks on now-fired Professor Joshua Katz for his article about racial issues on campus. Professor Klainerman provided the emails to PFS.



From: seri@math.princeton.edu<seri@math.Princeton.EDU>
Sent: Monday, October 11, 2021 8:26 AM
To: Christopher L. Eisgruber<eisgruber@Princeton.EDU>; Deborah A. Prentice <predebb@princeton.edu>; Gene A. Jarrett <gjarrett@princeton.edu>
Subject: RRR complaint


Dear President Eisgruber:

I am writing to inform you that together with a group of colleagues, I filed a complaint last week to the online DEI system, requesting an investigation of those responsible for the official university webpage “To Be Known and Heard: Systemic Racism and Princeton University” and the accompanying video in which Professor Joshua Katz was vilified and misquoted. These were mandatory materials that all incoming first-year students had to read and watch. In addition to the violations of the University’s Regulations 1.1.5 and 1.1.1, detailed in our complaint, there are, we believe, three additional and important academic issues involved in this incident.

We all know that you have been, and continue to be, a strong advocate of academic freedom and have no doubt you are an equally strong supporter of the principle that all members of the Princeton academic community should be treated fairly. Yet if a sitting university professor can have his views distorted and be vilified on an official university website, then both principles have been violated. We fear that anyone of us can be treated in the same fashion and face similar abuse by members of the University’s administration. This danger of retribution which affects us all will have a pervasive chilling effect on free speech at Princeton.

The third principle, which we believe was violated in this incident, is that the University should, in keeping with its own rules and regulations, take no sides in ideological disputes. Instead, it should enable and foster genuine conversations and debate. It should make sure that our students are exposed to a variety of points of view, and that its faculty is encouraged to pursue all areas of research, even when these conflict with established beliefs and strongly held views. Unfortunately the biased, unbalanced, web page presentation made to the class 2025, in their first encounter with Princeton, fell far short of that noble mission of the University.

Sincerely,

Sergiu Klainerman



From: Christopher L. Eisgruber<eisgruber@Princeton.EDU>
Date: Wednesday, October 13, 2021 at 10:49 AM
To: seri@math.princeton.edu<seri@math.Princeton.EDU>, Deborah A. Prentice <predebb@Princeton.EDU>, Gene A. Jarrett <gjarrett@Princeton.EDU>
Subject: RE: RRR complaint

Dear Sergiu,

Thank you for your note. Your complaint has been received, and it will be handled in accordance with University policies and procedures.

With best wishes,

Chris



From: seri@math.princeton.edu<seri@math.Princeton.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, April 20, 2022 6:04 PM
To: Christopher L. Eisgruber<eisgruber@Princeton.EDU>; Deborah A. Prentice <predebb@princeton.edu>; Gene A. Jarrett <gjarrett@princeton.edu>
Subject: Re: RRR complaint

Dear Chris,

As you will recall, I together with seven Princeton colleagues filed a formal complaint in October asking for an investigation of the way our colleague Joshua Katz has been treated and harassed as a racist on a university web page. All the points of our complaint were rejected by the office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity in a letter addressed to me on December 7th, 2021 also signed by the head of Human Resources.

I wrote to you on December 19th, 2021 requesting an appeal, and this was sent in the name of all my colleagues. We asked you to review the facts and requested that “this matter be taken out of the hands of Minter and Sullivan-Crowley and properly reviewed by a special counsel you would appoint to examine the matter."

We did not receive a direct answer from you. Instead, we were contacted on December 21st, 2021 by Dean Jarrett who wrote that “… the concerns you and your faculty colleagues raised in your October 2021 complaint have been evaluated and addressed by the appropriate University officials in accordance with the applicable policies. I appreciate that you disagree with the analysis reflected in Vice Provost Minter’s letter. After reviewing the documents you sent on December 19th, however, I see no basis to recommend that the University take further action in this regard.”

In the same e-mail, Dean Jarrett informed us of our right, under the Rules and Procedures of the Faculty, to appeal to the Committee on Conference and Faculty Appeal (CCFA). We accepted this opportunity of redress and made an appeal to the CCFA of the dismissal of our complaint. This was done on February 16th, 2022.

We received yesterday the report and decision of the CCFA. It finds in our favor and against Minter and Sullivan-Crowley on all our original points in the complaint. The report states:

“The Committee is in unanimous agreement that the dismissal letter from Vice Provost Minter did not adequately address Professor Klainerman’s complaint and, in some cases, took positions that are inconsistent with University policies. In our opinion, the issues raised in Professor Klainerman’s complaint deserve investigation, and Vice Provost Minter’s dismissal of his complaint is inappropriate.”

The CCFA unanimously recommends that our original complaint deserves a full investigation. It also specifically recommends that “… an office or offices outside of Vice Provost Minter’s participates in further deliberations of this complaint and we recommend that the investigation be conducted in concert with another such office.”

I am writing to you, in my name and that of my seven colleagues, to urge you to follow the recommendations of the CCFA and open an investigation on the important matters we brought to the attention of the University in our original complaint. We reiterate our request for a special counsel.

I attach to my e-mail the full CCFA report and all other relevant documents.

Sincerely,

Sergiu Klainerman



From: Christopher L. Eisgruber <eisgruber@Princeton.EDU>
Date: Friday, April 22, 2022 at 4:46 PM
To: Sergiu Klainerman <seri@Princeton.EDU>
Subject: <no subject>

Dear Sergiu,

Thank you for sharing your views. As always, the University will carefully evaluate and consider the CCFA’s advisory opinion and will engage with the committee on the matter if and as appropriate.

In the interim, please know that I stand by the analysis articulated in my March 31, 2022 letter to Professor Whittington, which explains why I believe that the pertinent sections of the To Be Known and Heard website are protected under the University’s Statement on Freedom of Expression.

With best wishes,

Chris



From: Christopher L. Eisgruber <eisgruber@Princeton.EDU>
Date: Friday, July 8, 2022 at 10:18 PM
To: Sergiu Klainerman <seri@Princeton.EDU>
Subject: <no subject

Dear Sergiu,

I am writing with regard to the University’s response to the CCFA’s report of April 19, 2022, concerning your appeal related to some of the reference and teaching materials included in the To Be Known and Heard virtual gallery. As I recently advised the CCFA, the University, after receiving the committee’s advisory opinion, conducted another review of this matter that included additional fact-finding. This additional review confirmed that none of the exceptions enumerated in the Statement on Freedom of Expression apply to the materials at issue. Because the website and its authors enjoy the full protection of that statement, no disciplinary action against the staff involved in the website’s creation is warranted or permissible under University policy.

With best wishes,

Chris



"seri@math.princeton.edu" <seri@math.princeton.edu> July 10, 2022

Re:

To: Christopher Eisgruber <eisgruber@Princeton.EDU>, Sergiu Klainerman <seri@Princeton.EDU

Dear Chris,

I am astonished by your statement that “the University” conducted a review and “confirmed” that the smearing of Professor Katz by University officers on an official University website to a captive student audience with no opportunity for Professor Katz to respond is protected speech under the University’s rules. As somebody who has been absolutely delighted by the support

you have shown (your letter to me on 3/5/15) to my letter of March 05, 2015 in which, in the name of a large number of my colleagues, I was asking for the adoption by our university of the Chicago Principles of Academic Freedom, I am absolutely aghast by your reply. I cannot imagine what reasons or findings of fact could justify this decision which, to me, amount to a repudiation of the Chicago Principles.

I therefore respectfully request, on my own behalf and that of the seven colleagues who joined me in demanding an investigation of this matter, that we be supplied with a copy of the review on which the decision was based. I further request that we be given an opportunity to present our case in person to the Board of Trustees or the appropriate committee of the Board at its next meeting.

I hope you can understand why, to us, a perfunctory and entirely conclusory statement that a review was conducted by “the University” and that a finding against us and the CCFA was made (with no reasons given or evidence supplied—or even information about WHO conducted the review) is utterly unsatisfactory.

Sincerely,

Sergiu



From: Christopher L. Eisgruber <eisgruber@Princeton.EDU>
Date: Thursday, July 14, 2022 at 3:48 PM
To: Sergiu Klainerman <seri@Princeton.EDU>
Subject: your message

Dear Sergiu,

I write in response to your message of July 10, 2022. Your note requested a copy of the University’s additional review of the issues raised by the CCFA’s report on your appeal pertaining to the To Be Known and Heard virtual gallery, and a meeting with the Board of Trustees (or a committee of the Board) to discuss your concerns.

Before addressing your specific requests, I want to reaffirm my strong commitment to the principles expressed in this University’s Statement on Freedom of Expression. Despite your own support for those principles, your complaint in this matter asks us to punish University employees for speech with which you disagree. For the reasons explained in my March 31, 2022 letter to Professor Whittington, the educational materials included in the virtual gallery are presumptively protected by the University’s Statement on Freedom of Expression. And, as I noted in my July 8th message to you, we have confirmed that none of the exceptions enumerated in that statement applies. As I have emphasized before and continue to believe, exceptions to our free speech policy must be narrowly drawn to leave ample room for open discussion of difficult and controversial subjects, even when some find that discussion uncomfortable or hurtful. The demanding standards are not met in this case.

Concerning your request for a copy of the relevant review, my message of July 8th provides all of the information the University can share with you about the matter. I hoped that my summary update would reassure you, as a member of the Faculty, that the University had taken your concerns seriously and responded to the CCFA’s report. I regret that it left you wanting more, but we generally do not disclose details about internal matters involving University employees absent a compelling need to do so.

We have forwarded your message to the Chair of the Board of Trustees. The Board’s role, however, does not include hearing appeals from individual faculty members who are disappointed in the University’s decision not to pursue discipline against other employees. While I appreciate that you disagree with the outcome, this matter has been adjudicated by the University and is now closed.

With best wishes,

Chris



"seri@math.princeton.edu" <seri@math.princeton.edu> July 19, 2022

Re: your message

To: Christopher Eisgruber <eisgruber@Princeton.EDU

Dear Chris:

Neither the victim of the University sponsored smears--Professor Katz--nor I or my co-complainants know who the "speakers" who exercised what you claim were their free speech rights are. That's not surprising. They were not expressing opinions in their own names, they were "speaking" for the University, on a University sponsored website, one designated precisely as such, to a captive audience of freshman. Neither Professor Katz nor anyone else was given an opportunity for a rebuttal or a response of any type. Who gave these unidentified bureaucrats the authority to do this?

You say that "we" have "confirmed" that the smearing of Katz was not a form of "speech" unprotected by our Rights, Rules. Who is "we"? And what is THE BASIS of the decision that confirms that smears are protected speech? I assume that if you had defensible reasons you would provide them, and not simply make declarations ("we have confirmed").

You say "exceptions to our free speech policy must be narrowly drawn to leave ample room for open discussion of difficult and controversial subjects, even when some find that discussion uncomfortable or hurtful." Which DISCUSSION are you referring to? Certainly you must know that no space whatsoever was given, by the officials responsible for designing the website, for a rebuttal. They insured that only one side would be heard--the side that would even go so far as to doctor a quotation to defame an innocent person who had no opportunity to defend himself. Whatever that was, it was certainly NOT a discussion.

Does it not concern you that the CCFA ruled strongly and unanimously against the Minter/Sullivan-Crowley decision on all counts? That committee obviously judges that using an official university website to smear faculty members to a captive audience of students, and even doctoring quotations to depict them as racists, is not protected speech. Likewise, FIRE, the AFA, and ACTA all condemn the retaliatory smearing of Katz. No one can accuse these leading academic freedom organizations of not caring about free speech. It is, of course, theoretical possible that you alone are right and all the rest of us are wrong, but in that case it is you who has the intellectual obligation to prove it. Have the CCFA, FIRE, the AFA, and ACTA all failed to recognize protected speech that you alone have noticed?

You claim you cannot share the relevant review with me. With all due respect, this is outrageous. On what basis can you deny to an official complainant the right to see the logic of your ruling? Can you cite the University rule that prohibits you from letting me have the reasons for ruling against me and my co-complainants? You may have the raw power to do what you are doing here. I don't know, I am just a simple faculty member. You can maybe fire me as you have fired Katz. But I am sure that what you are doing, covering up wrong, is wrong and unjust. The knock-down evidence for that is the doctoring of the Katz quote. It proves the malicious intent beyond a shadow of a doubt, since the material removed was precisely the material that made clear that Katz is not the racist they tried to smear him as being. I cannot imagine why you are continuing to defend the indefensible.

This is not an issue of “individual faculty members who are disappointed in the University’s decision not to pursue discipline against other employees'', as you phrased it, but one concerning fundamental issues of academic freedom, fairness, accountability and abuse of power.

Together with my colleagues we are patiently waiting for the Chair of the Board of Trustees to reply to the request that you forwarded to her. I understand that you consider this matter "now closed." My colleagues and I have a moral responsibility to keep it open.

Sincerely,

Sergiu







From: Christopher L. Eisgruber <eisgruber@Princeton.EDU>
Date: Friday, July 22, 2022 at 4:28 PM
To: seri@math.princeton.edu <seri@math.princeton.edu>
Subject: RE: your message

Dear Sergiu,

In light of the tone and content of your note, it would serve no purpose to prolong this exchange. You remain free, of course, to express your opinions, as do those whom you criticize.

With best wishes,

Chris

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