A Princeton classics professor will not be investigated for his dissent


A classics professor at Princeton University got into some trouble when he “declared independence” from a petition championed by hundreds of his colleagues.

Here is a taste of Joshua Katz‘s piece at The Wall Street Journal:

Now is the time to debate with renewed vigor existential questions of what counts as justice and how to fashion an equitable society. But the stifling of dissent is impeding the search for answers and driving people who disagree still further apart. Because students like to push boundaries and professors like to argue, colleges and universities are a crucible.

Take the university where I teach, Princeton. The campus—or at least the online campus, in the age of the coronavirus—has been in uproar since early July over a letter of demands to the administration signed by hundreds of my faculty colleagues, and especially over my response to that letter. I was immediately denounced on social media and condemned publicly by my department and the university president. At the same time, the university spokesman announced ominously that the administration would be “looking into the matter further.” On July 14, the Journal’s editorial board commented: “Princeton is demonstrating how a lack of leadership enables the cancel culture.”

It is therefore gratifying to report that Princeton’s leadership has done the right thing. I learned recently that I am not under investigation. The story of how I survived cancellation should be of interest to others, since I have no doubt that many more people, from once-obscure professors to public figures, will be vilified and in some cases materially punished for thought crimes.

In my response to the open letter, I agreed with some of my colleagues’ demands but objected to others, including some that are illegal (giving financial rewards specifically to faculty based on race) or, in my view, immoral (creating a new faculty committee to investigate research for traces of racism and discipline those responsible).

These demands deserve attention, not least because I believe that my colleagues are, for the most part, sensible people who are striving to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, heat over my use of the phrase “terrorist organization” to describe a defunct student group called the Black Justice League—whose members targeted and smeared fellow undergraduates for disagreeing with them—has triumphed over light: Neither my colleagues’ substantive demands nor my objections have received the attention they deserve.

The president of Princeton, Christopher Eisgruber, told a student newspaper that I had violated my obligation to exercise free speech “responsibly,” stating that he “personally and strongly” objected to my “false description” of the defunct student group. Four colleagues in my department, none of whom have been in touch with me directly, used the Princeton Classics website to denounce my language as “abhorrent” and made the astonishing claim that I had placed “Black colleagues, students, and alums at serious risk.” Some students and alumni went after me as well. And that’s to say nothing of the general vitriol online.

Read the rest here.