Princeton University, to its shame, has just stripped classics professor Joshua Katz of his tenure and fired him. It did so to punish Professor Katz for speaking the truth. Princeton is no longer a home for intellectual freedom—or common decency.
Professor Katz is a distinguished classicist who has spent his entire career at elite institutions. He received his B.A. from Yale, an M.Phil from Oxford, and his Ph.D. from Harvard. He was hired to teach at Princeton while still finishing his dissertation. In his 20+ years at Princeton, Professor Katz has received the President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching (2003), the Phi Beta Kappa Teaching Award (2008), and the Sophie and L. Edward Cotsen Faculty Fellowship (2013-2016), among numerous other accolades.
To the Princeton administration, however, Professor Katz’s stellar teaching record is as meaningless as the tenure protections that he earned through his years of academic service. Neither could protect him from its Star Chamber court. The result of the proceedings was a foregone conclusion, carried out by university administrators who wanted Katz gone long ago.
Princeton’s pretext for firing Katz is a consensual relationship he had with an undergraduate in the mid-2000s, which violated university policy prohibiting relationships between students and faculty. But Professor Katz was already investigated and disciplined for the violation with a one-year, unpaid suspension.
Last year, Princeton reopened the case, disregarding the principle of double jeopardy, after an article in the student-run Daily Princetonian speculated about the relationship. The timing was no accident. Seven months earlier, in July 2020, Professor Katz published an article in Quillette that criticized a recent letter from Princeton faculty demanding radical reforms from the university administration, including establishing a committee to police faculty research for any hint of racism, defunding campus police, and “commit[ting] fully to anti-racist campus iconography.” Katz’s refusal to assent to the new campus orthodoxy provoked the ire of many on campus, including President Eisgruber, who stated that Katz had “failed” to exercise his right to free speech “responsibly.” The Princeton administration announced that it would be “looking into the matter”—but it dropped the investigation shortly thereafter, finding nothing that could justify further discipline.
(The fruitless investigation in no way deterred administrators from including a doctored quote from Professor Katz’s article in a digital gallery “recognizing the injustices and indignities in the University’s history,” which was presented to incoming students in a mandatory orientation session the following August.)
The second investigation into Katz’s inappropriate relationship began shortly after the face-off, headed up by the Office of Gender Equity and Title IX Administration and the Office of the Dean of Faculty. The Title IX office found nothing further beyond the infractions that had been dealt with in 2018. Dean of Faculty Gene Jarrett, however, claimed that Katz “hadn’t been fully forthcoming” in the earlier investigation and that he had “discouraged the undergraduate from receiving therapy.” Dean Jarrett thus issued a formal recommendation that Katz be fired after the case was reviewed by a faculty appeals committee. President Eisgruber has followed through on that recommendation, despite Katz’s appeal to the standards of due process and the principle of protection from double jeopardy.
We have said that Princeton fired Katz pretextually—and though we are not privy to the souls of the Princeton administration, the timing of the public campaign against Katz, and Princeton’s decision to fire the sole open critic of Princeton’s radical dogma, makes this an overwhelmingly likely motivation. But let us make the best possible case for Princeton’s officials: they decided that, while a consensual affair deserved a year’s suspension, Katz’s trivial missteps (if they are as represented) in conducting himself during the previous investigation deserved firing—and they did so knowing that it would appear that they had arbitrarily persecuted a dissenting professor. We must acknowledge the possibility that Princeton’s administrators, president, and Board of Trustees all genuinely suffer from a shocking lack of judgment, and a moral myopia more culpable than malice. But no observer of human affairs will think this terribly likely.
The unceremonious firing of Professor Katz reveals the level to which university administrators will stoop to enforce ideological conformity on campus. Katz’s years of service to his university, his tireless work on behalf of his students, and his hard-earned accolades meant nothing to President Eisgruber, who was determined to advance his ideological agenda at all costs. The Princeton administration has made its stance abundantly clear: tenure and due process have no power at Princeton. Those who dare to speak out against the academic establishment’s radical injustice will be expelled for their heresy.
Furthermore, the university’s tactics throughout the skirmish show the extent to which Title IX investigations can be weaponized by university administrations—even absent an actual allegation. When the investigation following Katz’s Quillette article failed to produce any fireable offenses, the administration promptly passed the banner to the Title IX office. Even though a Title IX allegation had never once been brought against Katz (and the office's formal investigation produced nothing further), the university knew that the mere invocation of "Title IX" was sufficient for its purposes. After checking that box, the university continued its prosecution of Katz in full force, advancing the case through its web of bureaucratic and unaccountable committees.
The National Association of Scholars strongly condemns Princeton University’s pretextual firing of Joshua Katz. While student-faculty relationships are always inappropriate, the university’s investigation and discipline of Katz in 2018 should have been the end of the matter. By re-adjudicating the case after Katz took a stand against the university’s ideological agenda, Princeton has demonstrated that its dedication to progressive ideology outweighs its commitment to both due process and academic excellence. Joshua Katz’s departure is a great loss to Princeton’s students, but the university’s departure from its mission as an institution of higher learning cuts even deeper.
We also condemn the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for their equally shameful silence. The AAUP was created precisely to defend the Joshua Katzes of America. No professor who dissents from establishment ideology can rely on the AAUP. No professor who believes in academic freedom should remain a member of it.
We likewise condemn the silence of Professor Katz’s professorial colleagues at Princeton—save for a few doughty souls, such as the members of the Academic Freedom Alliance. We especially condemn the silence of the Princeton Classics Department, which is obligated to stand up for its colleague. The honorable calling of a professor requires that you stand up for your principles, and your colleagues, when the chips are down. Princeton’s professors, and especially its classicists, decided they would rather keep their heads down.
We believe that Joshua Katz will have an excellent case for a lawsuit against Princeton University—and we wish him well, should he pursue that course of action. What he most deserves is an apology from Princeton University, and above all from Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber and the Princeton Board of Trustees.