Princeton fires tenured professor in campus controversy

The dismissal of Dr Joshua Katz came after a fierce debate over whether he was targeted for his politics. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW JERSEY (NYTIMES) - A Princeton classics professor was fired, "effective immediately", after the university's administration found that he had not been fully honest and cooperative with an investigation into his sexual relationship with an undergraduate student about 15 years ago.

The dismissal of the professor, Dr Joshua Katz, was a rare case of a tenured professor being dismissed and came after a fierce debate on campus and in wider political spheres over whether he was targeted for his politics.

In 2020, he wrote an article in Quillette, an online journal, that criticised anti-racist proposals by Princeton faculty, students and staff. The university's statement on the firing did not allude to the free speech issue.

The reasons the university gave for dismissal were based on a "detailed written complaint from an alumna who had a consensual relationship with Dr Katz while she was an undergraduate under his academic supervision."

That relationship was in 2006 and 2007, but the alumna did not file her complaint until 2021.

Dr Katz, 52, said Princeton had treated him with "gross unfairness" after he had given his "entire career" to the university. His lawyer, Ms Samantha Harris, said the university's assertion that Dr Katz had tried to impede the investigation into his sexual relationship with the student was a "mischaracterisation".

The university's statement said a 2021 investigation had "established multiple instances in which Dr Katz misrepresented facts or failed to be straightforward" during its 2018 investigation into the relationship with the undergraduate.

Ms Harris said investigators had taken things said between Dr Katz and his former student during bursts of anger and frustration at a stressful time and turned them into much more damning statements, which were belied by context he provided in contemporaneous e-mails.

Dr Katz and his allies pointed out that he had already been punished once - by being suspended - for the relationship and contended that it was being resurrected as a pretext to retaliate against him for the Quillette article.

The article criticised anti-racist proposals in a July 2020 letter signed by more than 300 Princeton faculty, students and staff. In the most widely quoted and reviled element of his article, he called a student group, the Black Justice League, a "small local terrorist organisation" that had made the lives of many students, including Black students, miserable.

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