Princeton prepared to fire professor who opposed some of the school's anti-racism efforts

The Washington Free Beacon published this story yesterday and it’s another case of cancel culture run amok. In this case it seems pretty clear that professor Joshua Katz is being punished twice for his opposition to some of the woke ideology circulating through the school.

It is rare for a university to fire a tenured professor, and even rarer for a university to fire a professor with Katz’s record: By the university’s own admission, he did not commit fraud or sexual misconduct, two of the most common grounds for revoking tenure. Rather, the university is citing as grounds for dismissal a consensual relationship Katz engaged in with a student more than a decade ago, and for which he was already disciplined by the school in 2018.

Katz did have a consensual relationship with a student years ago and in 2018 the school punished him for it by suspending him for a year without pay. But the decision to fire him is based on a second investigation of this same incident, allegedly on the grounds that some aspects of it hadn’t been fully investigated. In fact, the real reason students and faculty are trying to oust Katz is that he vocally opposed what was called the Princeton letter. Here’s a sample of that letter:

Anti-Blackness is foundational to America. It plays a role in where we live and where we are welcome. It influences the level of healthcare we receive. It determines the degree of risk we are assumed to pose in contexts from retail to lending and beyond. It informs the expectations and tactics of law-enforcement. Anti-Black racism has hamstrung our political process. It is rampant in even our most “progressive” communities. And it plays a powerful role at institutions like Princeton, despite declared values of diversity and inclusion.

Anti-Black racism has a visible bearing upon Princeton’s campus makeup and its hiring practices. It is the problem that faculty of color are routinely called upon to remedy by making ourselves visible; by persuading our white colleagues to overcome bias in hiring, admission, and recruitment efforts; and by serving as mentors and support networks for junior faculty and students seeking to thrive in an environment where they are not prioritized. Indifference to the effects of racism on this campus has allowed legitimate demands for institutional support and redress in the face of micro-aggression and outright racist incidents to go long unmet.

There’s much more to it but in any case, Katz wrote a piece for Quillette which was critical of the letter:

Indeed, plenty of ideas in the letter are ones I support. It is reasonable to “[g]ive new assistant professors summer move-in allowances on July 1” and to “make [admissions] fee waivers transparent, easy to use, and well-advertised.” “Accord[ing] greater importance to service as part of annual salary reviews” and “[i]mplement[ing] transparent annual reporting of demographic data on hiring, promotion, tenuring, and retention” seem unobjectionable. And I will cheerfully join the push for a “substantial expansion” of the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship Program, which encourages underrepresented minorities to enter PhD programs and strive to join the professoriate.

But then there are dozens of proposals that, if implemented, would lead to civil war on campus and erode even further public confidence in how elite institutions of higher education operate. Some examples: “Reward the invisible work done by faculty of color with course relief and summer salary” and “Faculty of color hired at the junior level should be guaranteed one additional semester of sabbatical” and “Provide additional human resources for the support of junior faculty of color.” Let’s leave aside who qualifies as “of color,” though this is not a trivial point. It boggles my mind that anyone would advocate giving people—extraordinarily privileged people already, let me point out: Princeton professors—extra perks for no reason other than their pigmentation.

But the paragraph that really got him in trouble was this one:

“Acknowledge, credit, and incentivize anti-racist student activism. Such acknowledgment should, at a minimum, take the form of reparative action, beginning with a formal public University apology to the members of the Black Justice League and their allies.” The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 until 2016, was a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands. Recently I watched an “Instagram Live” of one of its alumni leaders, who—emboldened by recent events and egged on by over 200 supporters who were baying for blood—presided over what was effectively a Struggle Session against one of his former classmates. It was one of the most evil things I have ever witnessed, and I do not say this lightly.

After that, Katz was denounced by the university’s president for not exercising his right to speak “responsibly.”

Five days after its publication, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 joined a growing chorus of faculty, students, and alumni in publicly condemning professor Joshua Katz for a column in which he characterized the Black Justice League (BJL), a student activist group, as a “terrorist organization.”

“While free speech permits students and faculty to make arguments that are bold, provocative, or even offensive, we all have an obligation to exercise that right responsibly,” Eisgruber said in a statement to The Daily Princetonian. “Joshua Katz has failed to do so, and I object personally and strongly to his false description of a Princeton student group as a ‘local terrorist organization.’”

And from that point on it seemed only a matter of time before the school found a way to get rid of him:

The university announced on July 12, 2020, it would “be looking into the matter,” but informed Katz later that month that it had dropped its investigation, according to the Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Though the university did not formally sanction Katz, it did include him on a list of racists—such as the notorious segregationist Woodrow Wilson—who have marred Princeton’s legacy, which was published on a university website and presented at a mandatory orientation session for freshmen in August.

The second investigation, conducted by the dean of the Office of Faculty, sealed Katz’s fate. In February 2021, the Daily Princetonian reported that Katz had engaged in a consensual relationship with an undergraduate student in the mid-2000s, violating the university’s ban on student-faculty relations…

…when the liaison became public through the Daily Princetonian’s report, Princeton launched a second investigation, telling Katz that certain details in the article “remain uninvestigated and unaddressed.”

Katz has referred to the process as “double jeopardy” since the school is threatening to fire him for something he was already investigated and punished for several years ago. Regardless, the university president has recommended his dismissal and it looks like that’s where this is headed.

The whole story reminds me of what happened to NY Times science writer Donald McNeil Jr. McNeil had also been investigated for his use of the N-word on a student trip in 2019. The paper’s executive editor Dean Baquet investigated and disciplined McNeil but later when staffers at the paper learned about the incident they demanded a re-investigation. They got what they wanted and last February McNeil was fired.