President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 has recommended that classics professor Joshua Katz be fired from his tenured professorship after an internal investigation found Katz in violation of University rules, according to reports in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Eisgruber made the recommendation to the University Board of Trustees in a letter dated May 10 based on a November report by Dean of the Faculty Gene Jarrett, according to a copy of his letter reviewed by the Journal.
The recommendation for dismissal comes after a months-long investigation by the University that was initiated in the spring of 2021 after an alumna came forward to administrators with allegations concerning Katz, according to an individual who was interviewed by the University as part of the investigation.
In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, the participant in the investigation said that the University’s inquiry centered on whether in 2018, Katz had been “fully forthcoming when the University conducted an investigation into his relationship” with an undergraduate and “whether he ever posed a threat to the safety” of the undergraduate with whom he was in a relationship by “preventing the student from seeking mental health care.”
The individual said they were interviewed in May 2021 by an administrator working under Jarrett and knew of at least a few others who had been interviewed around the same time. Since their interview last year, they said they have not heard from the University on this matter.
Katz has previously acknowledged that he had had a relationship with a student in the mid-2000s, following reporting by the ‘Prince’ in February 2021 that Katz and Jane — a pseudonym for the alumna adopted for privacy concerns — had engaged in a relationship while she was his student and advisee.
Katz was put on a year-long administrative leave in 2018 as a result of a University investigation into his relationship with Jane, which administrators then concluded violated both current University rules and those in place at the time. The 2018 investigation did not include testimony from Jane herself.
Now, Eisgruber’s letter recommending his dismissal reportedly cites findings by the dean of the faculty that Katz misled investigators during that 2018 investigation and that he also pressured Jane not to participate in it.
The dean of the faculty’s report, according to the Times, found that Katz “had pressured her not to cooperate with the investigation in 2018” and “that he had hindered that investigation by not being totally honest and forthcoming.”
The report also found that Katz had “discouraged the woman from seeking mental health treatment while they were together, for fear of disclosing their relationship,” according to the Times. This falls in line with the characterization of the University’s inquiry by the individual interviewed for the investigation.
A second individual interviewed by the University during the course of the investigation was a close friend of Jane’s when they were both students. She shared with the ‘Prince’ that she told investigators that Jane had “tried to seek help multiple times during her senior year,” but ultimately did not access mental health care in light of Katz’s influence.
At the time of publication, the ‘Prince’ was not able to independently verify the contents of Eisgruber’s letter or the dean of the faculty’s report. News of Eisgruber’s recommendation was first reported on Tuesday by the Washington Free Beacon.
The University Office of Communications declined to confirm whether Eisgruber had in fact made the recommendation to fire Katz. A spokesperson stated only that “Princeton generally does not comment on personnel matters.”
Katz did not respond to a request for comment. But in an emailed statement, his lawyer, Samantha Harris ’99, reiterated earlier criticism of the ‘Prince’ investigation into Katz’s misconduct and added that the University “has now played its part in this Kabuki theater as well.”
“The successful effort to destroy Professor Katz for daring to say what many think but are too afraid to say will have a profound chilling effect on free expression at Princeton and beyond, as few people are willing to pay the price of having their personal lives turned inside out in search of damaging information,” Harris said.
Katz has been the subject of two controversies at Princeton.
In July 2020, he penned a Quillette column expressing opposition to an open letter that called for changes at the University related to race and equity. In the column, he described the Black Justice League, a former Black student activist group, as “a small local terrorist organization,” writing that the group “made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands.” That characterization saw backlash from students, colleagues, and Eisgruber himself, even as the president affirmed that University policies “protect Katz’s freedom to say what he did.”
Discourse around the Quillette column recently resurfaced as eight faculty members argued in an internal complaint that the inclusion of Katz’s controversial statement in a first-year orientation website by the Carl A. Fields Center in a chapter on the history of “Race and Free Speech” at the University constituted administrative targeting of the professor. Eisgruber defended the website, arguing in a letter that taking down the website section would in itself violate academic freedom.
In February 2021, the ‘Prince’ reported on alumni allegations of three instances of inappropriate conduct with female students by Katz, including the first incident with Jane.
In another instance reported by the ‘Prince,’ a second alumna alleged that Katz pursued her while she was a student for over a year and repeatedly crossed professional boundaries. After graduating, that student said she reported Katz’s behavior to a classics faculty colleague and then a University administrator, but was told nine months later that her case had been closed.
And in the third instance, another alumna alleged that Katz asked her on what she perceived to be a date while she was a student in his class.
In the aftermath of both controversies, some conservative commentators have made Katz a “cause célèbre,” and have argued that the recent University investigation into his alleged misconduct was in fact motivated by the controversy around his Quillette column.
Co-founder of alumni group Princetonians for Free Speech Edward Yingling ’70 told the Journal that “with the firing of Professor Katz, Princeton will have sent a message” that “if a faculty member of students says something that contradicts our orthodoxy, we will get you,” including by “investigating your personal life for years past.”
For his part, Katz said in a column this week that the Princeton administration has “branded me a racist” and adopted a prominent commentator’s argument that the University investigation “‘relitigate[s] incidents from years earlier that ha[ve] already been adjudicated.’”
But in his report, as quoted by the Times, Jarrett explicitly denied any relation between the two issues. “I have considered Professor Katz’s claim and have determined that the current political climate of the university, whether perceived or real, is not germane to the case, nor does it play a role in my recommendation,” Jarrett wrote in the document that reportedly formed the basis for Eisgruber’s recommendation.
The Times’ and Journal’s description of procedures leading up to Eisgruber’s recommendation aligns with how the University has publicly described its process for faculty discipline.
The University’s Procedures for Suspension and Dismissal state that “if the Dean of the Faculty decides to proceed to recommend suspension or dismissal, the member of the Faculty shall receive a written statement from the Dean articulating the reasons for the proposed suspension or dismissal.”
The faculty member may then request a review by the Committee on Conference and Faculty Appeal. Katz requested such a review, according to the Free Beacon, telling the committee that “I was already punished—and rightly so.” Now, Katz reportedly argued in his appeal, “I am being subject to double jeopardy.”
But the faculty committee found the investigation fair and that “dismissal is not an unreasonable recommendation,” according to Eisgruber’s letter as quoted by the Journal.
Ultimately, the University’s procedures establish that if Eisgruber determines suspension or dismissal of a faculty member is appropriate, he must make a recommendation to the University’s Trustees, who shall take “final action.” The same procedures state that the faculty member “shall be invited to appear” before a Trustees committee. It is unknown if such a meeting has happened between Katz and any Trustees.
Katz has not taught courses since the spring of 2021, according to the Office of the Course Registrar website. In the fall of 2021, he was initially scheduled to teach classes, which were removed from course listings by August. He did not teach in spring 2022 and is not scheduled to teach in fall 2022.
Katz served as a trustee at the ‘Prince’ from 2014 to early 2020, and before that, as a faculty columnist from 2006 to 2013.
This article is breaking and will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.
This article was updated on May 20 at 8:20 a.m. to include comment from a second individual who was interviewed by the University in connection with the investigation of Katz.
Editor-in-Chief Marie-Rose Sheinerman and Head News Editor Andrew Somerville contributed reporting.