8 at Princeton Assail ‘False’ Portrayal of Prof as Racist
Princeton University’s diversity, equity, and inclusion bureaucracy, which receives complaints from faculty and students about alleged discrimination and harassment, itself now stands accused by eight Princeton professors of harassing a ninth by falsely and dishonestly portraying him as a racist.
The eight professors’ previously unreported complaint and attached letter includes an accusation that someone (or more than one person) in the diversity-equity-inclusion bureaucracy deliberately falsified on the university’s official website a much-discussed passage in a July 2020 Quillette article by classics Professor Joshua Katz in order to reinforce the website’s portrayal of him as a racist.
At this writing, the university’s accusation of racism (with the doctored passage belatedly corrected) can still be found on an officially approved university webpage headed “To Be Known and Heard: Systemic Racism and Princeton University.” This webpage was shown to incoming first-year students as part of their mandatory orientation program by the diversity bureaucracy, which appears to be active under more than one name.
“We demand an investigation into who doctored Professor Katz’s quote and who edited and posted the page without identifying and correcting that error,” the eight professors said in a 1,000-word letter attached to their complaint. “Further, we demand an investigation into how the university decided to devote an entire feature on an official university website to demonizing a sitting professor, through the use of false and misleading information, for expressing views that were out of step with the official university orthodoxy.”
The complaint was filed through an online form with the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity & Diversity. The attached letter was addressed to Dean of the College Jill Dolan, Dean of the Faculty Gene Jarrett, and Provost Deborah Prentice. The university’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion is headed by Dean LaTanya N. Buck.
The professors received no acknowledgment or response until after one of them emailed a copy of the Oct. 4 letter on Oct. 11 to Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber. He responded on Oct. 13 that the complaint “has been received, and it will be handled in accordance with University policies and procedures.”
It is unclear who will “handle” it. Anyone involved in the preparation or distribution of the webpage attacking Katz would have an obvious conflict of interest in conducting a review of the complaint. The official acknowledgment of the Oct. 4 letter came on Oct. 14 in an email from Cheri A. Burgess, whose title is director for institutional diversity and EEO, Office of the Provost. She said only that the eight professors’ concerns “will be reviewed by the appropriate offices.”
A request made to Burgess and Buck seeking comment for this article was referred to Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss, who replied, “We don’t have anything to add on this.”
(Disclosure: Stuart Taylor Jr. is a co-founder and president of Princetonians for Free Speech [PFS]. He has co-authored editorials for the organization’s website criticizing the treatment of Katz by the Princeton administration and the Daily Princetonian. In addition, Solveig Gold, a 2017 Princeton graduate who was invited to join the PFS board this May because of her role as a co-founder in 2015 of the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, a student free speech group, and Katz were married this summer.)
The letter attached to the complaint asserts: “These deliberate violations [of two Princeton regulations] were undertaken for the purpose of harassing and discrediting Professor Joshua Katz, who has been the target of ire at the university since he published a July 2020 Quillette article criticizing some aspects of a faculty antiracism petition. …
“The Known and Heard website . . . went beyond the bounds of Princeton’s protections for free speech by deliberately misquoting Katz and cherry-picking materials specifically designed to portray him in a false light. This type of targeted, misleading personal attack on a faculty member is, to us, an attack on all faculty who might dare to dissent from the prevailing campus orthodoxy – so we cannot stay silent.”
The letter accused the person(s) responsible for the website of deliberately violating a university regulation (1.1.5) requiring that “all members of the university community” must provide “accurate information on official forms and documents as well as to official University personnel, offices, and committees” and that “[d]eliberate violations … will be considered serious offenses.”
“To Be Known and Heard is an official university document, and someone involved in its creation deliberately provided inaccurate information – specifically, someone doctored a quote from Katz’s article to remove important context without even adding an ellipsis to indicate missing text,” the faculty letter said.
Katz is on administrative leave from teaching for reasons that have not been publicly explained.
The prolonged controversy over Katz began with multiple denunciations by faculty and students of his July 8, 2020, Quillette article titled “A Declaration of Independence by a Princeton Professor.” The article sharply criticized some of the radical demands in a petition signed by more than 300 faculty members, which called for extra pay for black professors based on race (which would be illegal under federal civil rights law), for other forms of racial discrimination, and for severe limits on faculty members’ rights of free speech and academic freedom on racial matters. Katz also stated that he agreed with some of the petition’s other, less radical demands.
The controversy has centered on the following sentence, which drew a storm of attacks, including by Princeton President Eisgruber and Classics Department colleagues of Katz: “The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 until 2016, was a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands.”
In posting the quote on the university’s website, the faculty letter attached to the complaint said, someone altered it by deleting the phrase “(including the many black students),” and thus removed language in which Katz “expressed support for black students on campus” and objected to the BJL’s treatment of black students who disagreed with it.
“Given that the entire purpose of the feature was to portray Katz as a racist,” the letter continued, “omitting this important language advanced this goal through flagrant dishonesty. And while the website was finally corrected last week, it had already been shown to the entire first-year class, causing immeasurable damage to Katz’s reputation.”
The eight professors also noted that the doctored material presented to the first-year class “would constitute punishable academic dishonesty” if turned in by a student in an academic setting.
The second count of the letter attached to the professors’ complaint said that “[t]hose responsible for the To Be Known and Heard website – and for the decision to share it with the entire first-year class – have harassed and injured Professor Katz because of the beliefs he expressed in his July 8, 2020, Quillette article.” This, they said, violated Princeton’s Regulation 1.2.1.
The doctoring of the Katz quote, the letter asserted, “was part of a broader effort to falsely paint Katz as a racist” on the webpage, which also quotes “multiple cruel and false accusations” by Princeton faculty and employees accusing Katz of “race-baiting, disguised as free speech.” One department chair, Eddie S. Glaude Jr., head of the Department of African American Studies, claimed on the webpage that “Professor Katz, at times in this letter, seems to not regard people like me as essential features, or persons, of Princeton.”
By contrast, the eight-professor letter attached to the complaint said, “the website presents not a single alternative to the view that Katz is a racist” and does not include “the many quotes from Katz’s article in which he decries racism” and supports various “antiracism” proposals.
The eight-professor letter also says that “faculty, staff, and students appear to have been involved in the planning and creation of To Be Known and Heard.” A copy of the letter was provided to this writer on the condition that seven of the eight complaining professors not be identified because of concern about possible retaliation. The eighth, who led the preparation of the complaint, is Sergiu Klainerman, a mathematics professor.
Klainerman also signed the above-mentioned Oct. 11 email to alert Eisgruber to the eight-professor complaint. That email also said that “if a sitting university professor can have his views distorted and be vilified on an official university website,” it violates the principles of academic freedom and fairness.
Klainerman added: “We fear that anyone of us can be treated in the same fashion and face similar abuse by members of the University’s administration. The danger of retribution which affects all of us will have a pervasive chilling effect on free speech at Princeton.”