A segment about classics professor Joshua Katz’s controversial statement calling a former group of black student activists a “terrorist organization” will remain on the university’s To Be Known and Heard website, president Christopher Eisgruber said Thursday. 83 in a statement, responding to academic freedom. Alliance (AFA) asks to “refrain from using its administrative resources to target” Katz.
The AFA letter, sent to Eisgruber on March 27, had chastised Nassau Hall for the To Be Known and Heard segment on Katz, citing a concern that the administration was “systematically exposing a practicing member of its own faculty.” and argued that this constituted a violation. of academic freedom.
The AFA letter was signed by politics professor Keith Whittington, who chairs the group’s academic committee. The AFA is a nonprofit organization established in March 2021 that strives to “uphold the principles of academic freedom for faculty members of colleges and universities in the United States,” according to their website.
In his response to the AFA’s letter, Eisgruber said he would “resist any suggestion” that the To Be Known and Heard website be edited to no longer mention Katz, citing his own freedom concerns. academic. The website was created for a January 2021 Winter Term program through the Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding and was featured during the Freshman Orientation Program for the class of 2025.
“I share your deep respect for free speech and academic freedom,” Eisgruber said in his response, shared with The Daily Princetonian by the University’s Communications Office. “I am concerned, however, that your letter appears to be asking me to censor a website consisting of teaching materials prepared for a January 2021 Winter Term program and maintained on a university website for educational purposes.”
“Given that the production and publication of educational materials in general deserves protection under the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression, I am inclined to resist any suggestion of censorship,” Eisgruber added.
Eisgruber also responded to the AFA’s claim that “Professor Katz was singled out for criticism at a university-sponsored orientation event.” Eisgruber acknowledged that although the University hosted an orientation event that used the To Be Known and Heard website, the panelists did not discuss Katz or the associated portion of the website.
In an interview with the “Prince,” Whittington noted that although Katz is not threatened with being fired or “sanctioned” for what he said, “there are concerns that university administrators may engage in a campaign of intimidation and harassment against him. ”
“I think the university needs to think more seriously about this kind of institutional discourse and what to do for administrative units on campus,” he said.
Katz and his attorney did not respond to requests for comment on the AFA’s letter to Eisgruber. Katz is a member of the AFA, but Whittington noted that he was not involved in the organization’s deliberations on this issue.
Being Known and Heard is part of a new orientation module introduced to incoming first-year students whose goal is for “students and others to learn about race and racism from the days of the founding of the University until today.
The website’s “Race and Free Speech” chapter describes how “Throughout its history, Princeton has grappled with what crosses the ‘line’ between free speech and free speech, and statements and racist actions”. The chapter presents a number of examples of such cases, including details of the controversy surrounding a Quillete article that Katz wrote in 2020, in which he referred to the Black Justice League (BJL), a group of student activists active until 2016, as a “local”. terrorist organization”.
The To Be Known and Heard website quotes a line from Katz’s article: “The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 to 2016, was a small, local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the most large number (including many black students) who disagreed with the demands of its members. Beneath this statement are quotes from Eisgruber and other faculty members chastising Katz for his speech.
The website describes how, following a faculty letter urging Princeton to act on a list of anti-racism demands, Katz “took the opportunity to strongly rebuke” the BJL and includes an excerpt from his column alongside of quotes from President of African American Studies Eddie S. Glaude GS ’97 and President of the Lewis Center for the Arts Tracy K. Smith chastising his remarks.
The AFA letter claimed that, on the website, “Katz is held up as an example of a professor making a racist statement and is shown being called out by the university’s president, the classics department, and the presidents of two university units for engaging in racist speeches.”
Eisgruber stressed in his letter to Whittington the importance of including information about the controversy on the website.
“It’s hard to imagine how the website could have covered the recent controversies over race, free speech and the student protest at Princeton without mentioning the exchange between Dr. Katz and his critics,” he said. he writes.
The AFA letter is the latest in a series of objections to the website’s mention of Katz’s editorial.
Last October, math professor Sergiu Klainerman and other faculty members filed a lawsuit alleging that the administrators responsible for creating the website violated University policies in an effort to harass and discredit Katz. .
The University declined to investigate Klainerman’s complaint, according to a Dec. 7, 2021 letter signed by Michele Minter, vice provost for institutional equity and diversity.
Then, on March 15, Princetonians for Free Speech (PFS), an alumni-run nonprofit, posted a letter on its website asking the university’s board of trustees to commission an investigation into what they called a “smear campaign” against Katz on the To Be Known and Heard website. The letter was signed by PFS board members Stuart Taylor Jr. ’70, Edward Yingling ’70 and Todd Rulon-Miller ’73.
Ten days earlier, Yingling and Taylor Jr. had published an article in Real Clear Politics on the same subject.
Yingling, in an email to the “Prince” on March 25, claimed that “others have a right to criticize Professor Katz’s statement.”
“It’s not about what individuals said,” he wrote. “This is about Princeton administrators using these statements and creating a context to attack Professor Katz for a speech that the university’s president said is protected by Princeton rules.”
Yingling and Whittington told the “Prince” that their organizations had not coordinated to object to the University’s website’s treatment of Katz.
In their complaints to the University, Klainerman, AFA and PFS also disputed what they said was a misleading and incomplete quotation of Katz’s statements in his editorial on the To Be Known and Heard website.
The lawsuit filed by Klainerman and others last October said Katz’s quote on To Be Known and Heard had been edited to remove the parenthesis “(including the many black students)” after the phrase “who don’t disagreed with its members”. requests.”
The quote, as it currently appears on To Be Known and Heard, is unchanged from how it appears in Katz’s original editorial on Quillete, including this parenthesis.
The AFA’s letter noted that the organization was “disappointed that the correction was made by stealth edit without acknowledgment of error and certainly without an apology to Professor Katz for the misrepresentation of his writing.”
In Eisgruber’s response to the AFA, he acknowledged that “the authors of the website had an ethical obligation to correct the error, as they did shortly after the matter was brought to the attention of the University.
Whittington told The Prince that the controversy over Katz’s portrayal in To Be Known and Heard is “a matter of how universities should conduct themselves in general.”
Eisgruber wrote in his response to Whittington that “University staff members enjoy the right to free speech with other members of our community, including academic freedom protections when staff members engage in a teaching activity”.
“If the website had indulged in insults or made derogatory comments about Dr. Katz, I would consider it inconsistent with the values of the University,” he wrote. “The website, however, does no such thing.”
Katz served as a trustee of “The Prince” from 2014 to early 2020, and before that, as a faculty columnist from 2006 to 2013.
Paige Cromley is Associate Articles Editor and Editor for the News and Prospect sections of the Daily Princetonian. She can be contacted at [email protected]