Princeton University’s Board of Trustees voted to fire and immediately terminate tenured professor of Classics Joshua Katz over what they said was his lack of cooperation on a second investigation in 2021 into a consensual relationship he had with an undergraduate student 15 years ago.
His dismissal was met with strong resistance from conservative groups and media outlets. They questioned whether university officials lobbied for his ouster not because of his response to misconduct inquiries but rather due to his outspoken views and a letter he penned in the magazine Quillette denouncing a faculty letter to Princeton leaders on anti-black racism. In it, Katz referred to a former Black student group on campus as a “small local terrorist organization.” He was also an outspoken critic of the university putting new policies in place to give “perks” to faculty members of color after the murder of George Floyd “for no other reason than their pigmentation.”
But according to officials and in a statement obtained by The Daily Princetonian, the reason for his dismissal was that new details were revealed by the alumna that Katz “misrepresented facts” and was not “straightforward” when the investigation into misconduct was launched in 2018. The university also said that Katz, 52, knowingly tried to prevent the former student from coming forward in an attempt to cover up their relationship while convincing her not to seek counseling. “These actions were not only egregious violations of University policy but also entirely inconsistent with his obligations as a member of the Faculty,” the university said in a statement.
So the Board followed through with its vote to fire Katz on the recommendation of President Christopher Eisgruber and Dean of Faculty Gene Jarrett. “After reviewing the pertinent investigation reports and Dr. Katz’s submissions, and interviewing Dr. Katz and others, that committee [the Committee on Conference and Faculty Appeal] found that the reasons presented in the dismissal recommendation of the Dean of the Faculty were supported by the record,” the university said.
Katz had been suspended in 2018 over revelations of the relationship, lost a year’s pay and was placed on three years probation upon his return in 2019, according to the university. In 2021, the Daily Princetonian reported that one former female student had a sexual relationship with Katz and two other women said they were victims of lewd behavior by him. The alumna, who didn’t get the chance to tell her story in 2018, talked in early 2021, prompting the university to launch its second investigation. The potential cover-up of the relationship with the alumna would be considered a violation under Princeton’s code of conduct and grounds for dismissal.
Katz has not made a statement since he was terminated. But his attorney, Samantha Harris, told the New York Times—referencing the potential for other factors to be the cause of his termination—that “the university’s decision will have a powerful chilling effect on free speech because anyone who might wish to express a controversial opinion knows that they must first ask themselves if their personal life can stand up to the kind of relentless scrutiny that Dr. Katz’s life was subjected to.” She also told the Times that any potential interference in the investigation was “mischaracterized.” It is unclear whether Katz will pursue any legal action against the university.
Katz has had more than one defender, especially over the right to free speech. Edward Yingling, who co-founded Princetonians for Free Speech, wondered about the future of faculty to have the ability to speak out on certain issues, 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.”
Katz had been at Princeton since 1998, calling himself a “linguist by training, a classicist by profession, and a comparative philologist at heart.” He started by teaching one class in English before eventually rising to earn full tenure status in 2008. According to the Daily Princetonian’s reporting, he has been a popular choice among students as a professor, though several of the women interviewed said they felt uncomfortable by what they deemed as his sexual advances.