We have been writing about the rising intolerance for conservative and dissenting views on our campuses. Many faculty members are fearful that, if they challenge the liberal orthodoxy at their schools, they will be shunned, investigated, or fired. For many, that fear was realized this month at Princeton where the university used a previously adjudicated grievance against Classics Professor Professor Joshua Katz to seek his termination. Katz had drawn the ire of faculty and students by questioning a proposed anti-racism program of benefits for minority faculty. Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber called on the university board to fire Katz in a move being denounced as a transparent effort to circumvent free speech and academic freedom protections over his prior public stance.
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.
However, as a faculty member of 25 years, he objected to faculty of color receiving special “course relief and summer salary” and an extra semester of sabbatical. He criticized “extra perks for no reason other than … pigmentation.” The article is direct and many faculty likely felt insulted by the criticism. The issue is the role of the university in effectively calling these objections as raw racism. He also objected to the editing of his comments to remove counter evidence of his motivation or intent.
In the article, Katz denounced the request for the university to issue a formal public apology to members of the Black Justice League student group:
“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.”
The letter framed these requests as attempts to balance racial disparities among school employees.
“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,” Katz wrote in response to the letter.
Many called for Katz to be fired for expressing such views. The university then featured Katz in a mandatory freshman orientation video that included a “Race and Free Speech” section in which he is condemned as a racist.
It appears, however, that the university was not done with Katz. According to the Wall Street Journal, the university re-opened a previously adjudicated claim of sexual misconduct and then used that as the basis to seek his termination.
After the controversy over Katz’s criticism of the anti-racism measures, the school newspaper decided to focus on the earlier controversy and seek new charges. The university agreed.
Katz had previously been adjudicated over a consensual intimate relationship with a student in 2006. The relationship began when the student was a junior and reportedly continued after her graduation. The student refused to cooperate with the university in its investigation.
The 2018 investigation resulted in a finding that Katz violated school policy prohibiting sexual relationships between teachers as well as its nepotism policy. He was then punished with a one-year suspension without pay.
The prior adjudication and punishment should have closed the question. It is the academic equivalent of the Double Jeopardy Clause in the Fifth Amendment that maintained that no one “shall . . . be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb . . . . ”
However, at the urging of the students, the university re-opened the investigation and found two violations of school policy. It claimed that Katz (1) misled investigators and failed to cooperate with the investigation and (2) discouraged the former student from seeking psychiatric help when she threatened self-harm.
That was enough to allow Eisgruber to seek his termination while claiming it was not about his academic views of the anti-racism measures. The message, however, could not be more clear to dissenting voices on the faculty: if you speak up. any past grievance or issue can be dug up to seek your termination.
Edward Yingling, co-founder of Princetonians for Free Speech, is quoted as saying
“With the firing of Professor Katz, Princeton will have sent a message. If a faculty member or student says something that contradicts our orthodoxy, we will get you—if not for what you said, then by twisting your language, by using the extensive resources of the university to shame you before the student body, and by investigating your personal life for years past.”
I hold no brief for Dr. Katz on the earlier dispute. Indeed, there is little information on the underlying facts of the earlier case. It is enough that he was previously adjudicated and punished for his conduct. One can accept that judgment and still object to a later retroactive and supplemental punishment.
The chilling effect on faculty will be glacial. It is a warning that even closed cases can be re-opened to facilitate your termination if you defy the majority.