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Alumni free speech group says faculty committee upheld complaint against University related to Joshua Katz

<h6>Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

Princetonians for Free Speech (PFS) published a notice on their website on April 19 claiming that the University’s Committee on Conference and Faculty Appeal (CCFA) had upheld an appeal regarding a complaint initiated by eight University faculty members about the University’s treatment of Joshua Katz. The complaint argued the University had unfairly targeted classics professor Katz by including a segment about his controversial statement on the first-year orientation website To Be Known and Heard.

Nassau Hall is currently “carefully reviewing the CCFA’s advisory opinion,” University Deputy Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told the ‘Prince,’ explaining that the University considers it an “internal matter” and that it plans to “engage with the committee as appropriate.”

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The ‘Prince’ was not able to independently verify the contents of the CCFA’s report.

For further comment on the committee’s findings, Hotchkiss referred the ‘Prince’ to a letter President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83 wrote to Professor Keith Whittington on this matter on March 31, in which Eisgruber defended administrators’ decision to include the segment and stated that removing the segment would constitute censorship and violate “academic freedom.”

Mathematics professor Sergiu Klainerman, the only public author of the original faculty complaint, told the ‘Prince’ that he had “received a copy” of the CCFA’s report from the chair of the committee, molecular biology professor Jean Schwarzbauer. According to PFS President Edward Yingling ’70, the content of the CCFA report is “confidential,” and the ‘Prince’ was not able to obtain a copy.

Schwarzbauer deferred comment to the Office of Communications.

“The University made a terrible mistake in the way they treated the Katz case,” Klainerman told the ‘Prince.’ “It is time for the administration to show that it can correct its missteps.”

Katz did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

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The To Be Known and Heard website was created for 2021 Wintersession and presented during first-year orientation for the Class of 2025. A section of the University-housed website entitled “Race and Free Speech” includes a quote from a summer 2020 op-ed authored by Katz in which he objected to demands in a faculty open letter on racial equity on campus. In the op-ed, he called a former Black student activist group a “terrorist organization.” In the orientation website, his comments are followed by descriptions and quotes of faculty members’ rebukes of Katz’s words at the time.

A Dec. 7, 2021 letter signed by Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity Michele Minter rejected the faculty complaint, which had argued that the segment singled out Katz in a way that violated his academic freedom. Minter’s office declined to investigate the matter further, as the ‘Prince’ previously reported, a decision that Eisgruber’s March 31 letter supported.

Eisgruber wrote in the letter that “University staff members enjoy free speech rights along with other members of our community, including the protections of academic freedom.” 

“If the website had engaged in name-calling or made derogatory comments about Dr. Katz, I would regard it as inconsistent with University values,” he wrote. “The website, however, does nothing of the kind.”

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Klainerman wrote in an email to the ‘Prince’ that after Minter’s decision, he and the seven other faculty members who made the original complaint appealed to the CCFA.

According to the Office of the Dean of Faculty website, the CCFA can act as a “board of review” for cases involving “the dismissal or the suspension of a member of the Faculty, or any question of unfair treatment” of faculty members.

Klainerman also told the ‘Prince’ that after he received a copy of the CCFA report, he had been asked not to “post or otherwise publish the ruling.” On May 5, however, he published an op-ed in Tablet Magazine decrying the state of free speech at the University and specifically mentioning the CCFA’s findings, which he called a “bombshell.” 

In emails to the ‘Prince,’ he defended the choice to write the op-ed. He said that he took the instruction to mean that “I cannot directly quote from” the report. “I did however write in my Tablet article that the CCFA ruling was a complete vindication of our original complaint, on all counts. That is true and no one will deny it,” Klainerman wrote.

In the appeal, Klainerman told the ‘Prince’ that eight faculty members, himself included, claimed “the actions involving Professor Katz amount to violations of the University’s Regulations 1.1.5 and 1.1.1, as detailed in our original complaint, and also possibly violated federal and state laws.”

“We asked the committee to report to President Eisgruber and Dean [of the Faculty Gene] Jarret the need for an independent counsel” to investigate the matter further, Klainerman wrote.

On March 27, Whittington sent a letter to Eisgruber on behalf of the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA), of which he serves as Academic Chair, calling on the University “to refrain from using its administrative resources to target Professor Katz or other members of the faculty in its official activities and programming.”

Eisgruber responded to the AFA letter with an affirmation of Minter’s decision not to remove the segment.

“Are you asking that I censor the website? If so, I find that request troubling, and I would need to understand better how you reconcile it with the principles of academic freedom and free speech that you champion,” Eisgruber wrote. 

Yingling, the president of the alumni group advocating for free speech and academic freedom on Princeton’s campus, wrote to the ‘Prince’ that “according to our reliable sources, the CCFA letter ruling found that the website was an official University document, citing specifically the use of the trademark and copyright and its being shown in orientation.” He added that “despite Eisgruber's attempt to deflect the issue, it is clear that this is an attack by the University, and if so, it clearly violates Princeton rules.” (Yingling did not disclose his sources and the ‘Prince’ was not able to independently verify this information.)

The University Office of Communications did not clarify when further decisions on the issue may be made public.

Katz served as a trustee at the ‘Prince’ from 2014 to early 2020, and before that as a faculty columnist from 2006 to 2013.

Paige Cromley is a sophomore who writes for the News, Features, and The Prospect sections of the ‘Prince.’ She can be reached at pcromley@princeton.edu

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Klainerman did not disclose the identity of the official who sent him a copy of the CCFA report. In reality, he later clarified that the report was shared with him by the chair of the CCFA.

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