May 25, 2022 8 min read

By Edward Yingling and Stuart Taylor, Jr.
Founders of Princetonians for Free Speech

Princeton has now fired Classics Professor Joshua Katz. Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber recommended the highly unusual step of firing a tenured professor to the Princeton Board of Trustees, which, since it is nothing but a rubber stamp, agreed.

So the mob won. A distinguished scholar, who was one of the most popular and award-winning professors on campus, has had his reputation smeared and his teaching career ruined by a mob -- the faculty, the student newspaper, and the administrators who, aided and abetted by Eisgruber and the Board of Trustees, did this.

Technically, Katz was fired over an affair he had with a student well over a decade ago, for which he has already served a suspension, and over his actions while the investigation was going on. But that is not the real story here. The mob got him because he dared to write an article that challenged the orthodoxy about race on campus. Here is the real test: Would a professor who also had had an affair with a student and who later wrote something much, much more inflammatory than Katz did – while compiling a record as a left-leaning progressive -- have been fired?  Would he have been attacked in the student newspaper in a way that no one in the history of the paper had ever been attacked before?  Would his personal life have been subjected to a Javert-like seven-month investigation by that newspaper? Would he have been attacked by Princeton administrators in an official presentation to the entire entering class?  Would he have been subjected to double jeopardy over a personal mistake?  Absolutely not. But that is what happened to Professor Katz.

We have been told by faculty, students, and former administrators that it is widely known that many faculty members and administrators at the highest level have had affairs with students over the past several decades. Their names are known on campus. Has any of them ever been investigated to the degree Katz has been? No, because they did not challenge campus orthodoxy on an explosive issue.

We will briefly recount the history, but the bottom line is that Katz has been persecuted by a mob for writing the following sentence: “The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 to 2016, was a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands.”

For this he has been labeled a racist and driven off campus. Was this sentence hyperbole? We think it was. But we have been told by people who were there at the time that the Black Justice League did try to intimidate other students, and particularly black students, who would not support its efforts.

This sentence was in an article Katz wrote for Quillette in July 2020, in response to a letter signed by numerous Princeton faculty containing a lengthy list of “anti-racist” demands. Katz said some were reasonable, but he criticized several -- including one that would have required higher pay and extra benefits for faculty based on their race, which would almost certainly violate federal and state law, and another that called for a committee of faculty to vet research and writings of faculty for statements the committee might decide were racist, which would have violated the basic concept of academic freedom.

When the Quillette article appeared, Katz was immediately attacked by other Princeton faculty; those faculty also have a right to free speech. But his own department – the Classics Department – also attacked him, which is a violation of Princeton’s free speech principles right off the bat, as the department is institutionally part of Princeton University. In other words, the University – not merely its bureaucrats and professors -- was now smearing Katz.

Days later, Eisgruber harshly criticized the language about the Black Justice League. A University spokesman said the University would be “looking into” it, which would logically be read as “investigating” it. Eisgruber later tried to claim there was no “investigation”; this was at best a Clintonesque quibble over what the meaning of the words “looking into” is. The administration had thus sent a clear message that speech it does not like might be subject to investigation. In fact, there was nothing to investigate; Katz’s statement was clearly protected by the Princeton free speech rule, as Eisgruber finally had to state publicly about a week later.

Next the Daily Princetonian picked up the cudgel. The Prince, as it is known, is no small school paper. It has a large staff and large resources. The Prince first demanded that Katz be punished as a racist for writing the articleIt thereby demonstrated that it is an enemy of free speech.

The Prince also launched an unprecedented seven-month investigation into his personal life, interviewing fifty-six people and reading through reams of documents. Would the Prince have done this if its leaders had not wanted to see Katz punished for his speech? Of course not. It can safely be said that never before had the Prince devoted such resources to an investigation of anyone for anything.  Again, many Princeton faculty and administrators have had affairs with students, but had the Prince ever investigated them like this? No. And this investigation was over a relationship that had occurred years before and for which Katz had already been punished.

The result was a lengthy article about the affair, filled with innuendo and conjecture. As we pointed out in an opinion piece, it was McCarthyism at its worst -- a hit piece to punish Katz for what he wrote.

But that was not enough for the Prince. It kept the article as the lead article on its website for over a week. It did follow up pieces and used proxies to write other hit pieces. The Prince’s actions were a total disgrace. But its whole purpose was to pressure the Princeton administration to fire Professor Katz, and in that it succeeded.

Next administrators joined the attack. The way in which it was done shows clearly that the attack was by the University itselfand yet Eisgruber did nothing to stop it. He later claimed that the administrators were exercising their own free speech rights and accused free speech advocates of demanding censorship of the website. This was a transparent effort to deflect attention from the fact that Eisengruber-subordinate administrators were using University resources to attack Katz and were doing so in the name of the University.

Consider these facts about the University’s attack:

1. Two university offices produced a website, co-sponsored by eight other departments and offices, that contained a section clearly designed to portray Katz as a racist over the Quillette sentence. The section on Katz was placed in a chapter on speech and race at Princeton that gave numerous examples of speech and actions in the history of Princeton that clearly were racist. It contained out-of-context quotes about Katz from other faculty that labeled him a racist.

2. This website was announced to the entire University with great fanfare in January 2021 and was placed on the University’s official website by University administrators. It is still there.

3. This website was shown to the entire entering class of Princeton in August, introduced by a dean, and was the subject of breakout discussions of the entire class. Yes, the University showed the entire entering class a presentation produced by the University that labeled one of its professors a racist for a statement the President had said was protected speech.

4. Incredibly, the administrators who produced the website doctored the Quillette quote to remove language, without including an ellipsis, that showed Katz was concerned about the Black Justice League’s intimidation of black students. The language removed is “(including many black students).” Eisgruber later called this doctoring an “error.” This is nonsense. It was almost certainly done on purpose, and with malice aforethought.

5. The website contained both the trademark and the copyright of Princeton. Under Princeton’s own guidelines, the copyright can only be used on official Princeton documents.

But the administrators were not through. When eight brave Princeton faculty members filed a complaint pointing out that the website and its use violated several Princeton rules, administrators rejected the complaint with an opinion that defies belief. First, they ruled that the website is not an official University document despite the clear evidence that it is. Then they reinterpreted the Princeton free speech rule to exclude Katz from protections in a manner that defies all legal rules of interpretation; in the process they gutted the rule so that it does not protect the great majority of speech. When this ruling was appealed to Eisgruber, he bucked it to Dean of the Faculty Gene Jarrett, who stated his approval of the ruling. The reinterpretation of the free speech rule still stands, making any future reference to Princeton’s support for the rule a falsehood.

These actions -- the use of the website to attack Katz and the denial of the eight faculty members’ complaint -- were so outrageous that all three major national campus free speech groups -- the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, and the Academic Freedom Alliance – denounced them. Never before had all three national groups denounced the same university action. Robert Shelby, Executive Director of FIRE, said: “Princeton’s absurd labeling of its slickly produced website insulting Professor Katz – created at the behest of and sponsored by a half-dozen administrative offices, with its own subdomain on Princeton’s site – as not an ‘official University document’ shows that its pronouncements simply cannot be trusted.”

For more on the history of Princeton’s attacks on Professor Katz, see this article in Real Clear Politics.

At this point, Eisgruber decided he finally had to defend Princeton’s attacks on Professor Katz. He did so in a risible letter to the Academic Freedom Alliance that was filled with condescension, disinformation, and omissions. He never addressed the principal problem – that the University was attacking Katz over speech. Instead, he made the incredible argument that he was protecting the free speech rights of unnamed Princeton administrators who used the considerable resources of the University to attack one of its professors.

But shortly after Eisgruber’s letter, an official faculty appeal committee, the Committee on Conference and Faculty Appeal, unanimously ruled that the rejection by Princeton administrators of the complaint by the eight professors was wrong. This faculty committee implicitly rejected Eisgruber’s arguments. They found that the University was responsible for the attacks on the website and that the doctoring of the Quillette quote warranted an investigation for violating Princeton rules. See this PFS article. The administration has yet to respond to the faculty committee’s recommendations.

But now the mob has won anyway. The faculty, the student newspaper, and the administrators who set out to get Katz have won. Princeton’s leaders not only enabled the mob’s actions, some actively participated in them and then tried to deny, through indefensible arguments, their involvement and their violations of Princeton’s own rules. The mob and the once-great University that it now dominates have sent a message: If you, a faculty member or a student, say something that contradicts our orthodoxy, we will get you. If we cannot get you on what you said, we will even doctor your language and show it in front of the student body to shame you, and we will investigate your personal life with all our resources and ruin you. And we will interpret Princeton’s rules however we want so we can get away with it.

We end with the same question with which we started: Would a progressive professor who wrote something much, much more inflammatory than Professor Katz did, and who also had the exact same personal issue, have been subject to all these investigations and attacks and then fired?  The answer is certain: NO.

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