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Princeton’s continued silence on Katz is indicative of lack of care for students

<h5>Stained glass windows in East Pyne Hall, home of the Classics department.</h5>
<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Stained glass windows in East Pyne Hall, home of the Classics department.
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The following is a guest contribution and reflects the authors views alone. For information on how to submit an article to the Opinion Section, click here.

More than two weeks ago, The Daily Princetonian reported on the alumni who allege a history of inappropriate conduct by Professor Joshua Katz. Now, both Katz and the University have made statements confirming aspects of this reporting, including that Katz had a relationship with a student that violated University rules and that he served a one-year suspension as a result. These events might have come as a surprise for some, but for many people on Princeton’s campus, toxic relationships similar to what was reported are an everyday reality. 

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As members of Princeton Students for Title IX Reform (PIXR), we are intimately familiar with the University’s shortcomings on issues of sexual assault and misconduct. We believe the University’s handling of Katz’s misconduct fits into a pattern at Princeton of sexual misconduct followed by University negligence. It is the institution’s silent abandonment, we believe, that has cultivated a campus culture in which many students feel unsafe.  

It is important to note that the situation with Katz is not an isolated incident. The University has a history of failing to protect students when it comes to issues of sexual misconduct. For instance, in 2014, the U.S. Department of Education found the University to be in violation of the gender equity law Title IX as the University’s handling of sexual assault cases favored the rights of accused students over those of their reported victims.

After this incident and the following resolution agreement, President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 released a statement affirming Princeton’s “commitment to address all matters of sexual misconduct in ways that are fair, effective, and transparent, and our determination to ensure a campus climate that places high priority on prevention and support, and on ensuring safety and freedom from discrimination for all members of our campus community.”

Yet many students still felt unsafe, and issues continued to surface. In 2017, for example, students within the German Department organized to have administrators address claims of a culture of sexual harassment. 

In 2018, Princeton terminated Professor of Electrical Engineering Sergio Verdú after a University investigation concluded that he “violated the university’s policy prohibiting consensual relations with students, and its policy requiring honesty and cooperation in university matters.” Specifically, he allegedly invited a graduate student to his home to watch films involving sex and then touched her upper thigh and stomach; Verdú denied the allegations. 

In 2019, PIXR organized a 200-hour protest outside of Nassau Hall in response to sexual harassment and assault occurring on campus and our belief that the University has exhibited a lack of care towards survivors. Students pointed to how Princeton’s Title IX fails students and provided demands to end sexual and interpersonal violence on campus.  

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During the protest, PIXR collected 34 anonymous testimonials about student experiences with sexual harassment on campus and how the Title IX office failed to adequately protect them and respond to their cases. We urge people to read these testimonials. 

After the protests, President Eisgruber released another statement explaining that “sexual misconduct has no place at Princeton, and the University remains firmly committed to making its campus safe.” 

Yet now, students have had to find out via a recent expose by the ‘Prince’ that allegedly Katz has engaged in multiple inappropriate interactions with students. This includes a romantic relationship which Katz himself has admitted to. Although this places him in violation of University policy and, we believe, constitutes sexual misconduct, President Eisgruber has not released a statement. 

Meanwhile, Katz did release a statement, admitting to having a relationship with a student and explaining that the University investigated and gave him a yearlong unpaid suspension. That’s a light punishment considering the misconduct. After Katz released this statement, University spokesperson Ben Chang confirmed that Katz’s account was accurate and stated that the University “took appropriate action” in regards to Katz’s conduct. He added that Katz’s “compliance with University requirements” means he is “able to fulfill his responsibilities as a member of the faculty.” 

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The lack of transparency on the part of the University regarding this matter is unacceptable. Since the University’s actions were not made public until now, students were not given relevant information that could have been useful in deciding whether to interact with or take classes with Katz.

This information is especially relevant considering Katz is still teaching two introductory courses this semester. Although the classics department is now offering an alternate section to one of Katz’s classes, CLG 108: Homer, it is unclear if similar measures will be taken in the future to limit his interaction with students. The ‘Prince’ has reported that students have left the other class he is teaching, CLG 102: Beginner’s Greek. Two students who dropped the class told the ‘Prince’ that they felt uncomfortable and alleged that Katz had commented on the clothing worn by one of the two.  

To address this issue and emphasize how unacceptable sexual misconduct is, the University should adopt a zero-tolerance policy. In this case, we would urge the University to fire Katz. He should no longer be teaching classes or advising students, two of the key responsibilities that professors have that give them power over students. Unlike what Chang, the University spokesperson, stated, the year-long suspension and counseling that Katz received is not “appropriate action.” 

This zero-tolerance policy is especially important regarding misconduct involving faculty. As Braden Flax argued in a recent column in the ‘Prince’, the hierarchical nature of academia allowed Katz to have an inordinate amount of power in terms of the academic and career outcomes of students. This situation leads to an even greater ability to engage in abuse and creates a lack of checks against such abuse. 

In May 2019, protesters pointed to numerous other incidents that should have prompted Princeton to respond to the crisis that had traumatized lives beyond imagination. They demanded that Princeton acknowledge the structural problems in Title IX’s implementation on campus and provide robust funding and resources not just when harm occurs but also to prevent it from occurring in the first place. Professors, graduate and undergraduate students, staff, community members — all came together to ask for one thing: protection. 

Since then, Princeton has repeatedly failed to respond in a manner that reflects the urgency of the crisis. Instead, we have seen little structural change and a continued lack of transparency in making the community aware of any changes. For instance, PIXR initiated an email campaign this summer to clarify what changes were being made to Princeton’s policies as a result of national changes to Title IX this summer. In response, the University released a  statement that essentially said they were still discussing policies and gave only a very vague idea of proposed policy changes. 

Thus, in both their failure to adequately address incidents of sexual misconduct and their continued lack of transparency on these matters, the Princeton administration has created a culture that focuses on avoiding controversy and prioritizing perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault. Several testimonials discuss how perpetrators were given little to no punishment despite numerous complaints made to the Title IX office. As a result, survivors were left feeling unsafe and without protection from the place that was supposed to provide it.

We believe that the University’s assertion that “sexual misconduct has no place at Princeton'' must be followed with action. In particular, the University needs to have more accountability mechanisms in place to protect survivors. Without sufficient trustworthy resources for survivors, this culture of misconduct will continue, and students will continue to be put in harm’s way. 

Our power as students lies in our ability to question and critique the institutions we call home. We should be loud and unapologetic in our request to feel safe on campus. The University should be embarrassed to continue employing a longtime professor who has engaged in inappropriate conduct with students. As PIXR stands in solidarity with our alumni who courageously spoke up, we demand that the University not only fire Katz but also, and more importantly, radically invest in preventative resources that target the culture of entitlement that has allowed professors like Katz to be protected. Otherwise, exploitation of power will continue to breed many more like him.     

We urge students to look at our website to read the anonymous testimonials we have collected, fill out this anonymous form if you want to share your experiences, and fill out this form to be added to a GroupMe to collaborate on future projects and stay updated as we continue to fight for a campus free of sexual harassment and abuse.

Amna Amin is a senior in the Politics department from Pittsburgh, Pa. She can be reached at amnaa@princeon.edu. 

Aisha Tahir is a senior in the African American Studies department from Alexandria, Va. She can be reached at atahir@princeton.edu. 

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