Do I detect a developing trend? First it was Harvard’s Roland Fryer, now it’s Princeton’s Joshua Katz. The trend, if it is one, is the use of old or dubious allegations of sexual impropriety to destroy the career of a tenured professor whose real “crime” is his failure to embrace woke ideology.
Fryer, readers will recall, was a superstar economics professor at Harvard. The recipient of numerous awards for his scholarship, Fryer seems to have made the mistake of believing that he could do his research and let the facts determine his conclusions, regardless of current campus orthodoxy. So, for example, his 2016 working paper concluded that race played no part in the use of lethal force by police.
Needless to say, that didn’t sit well with faculty and administrators, but what could they do? Well, they could and did use tissue-thin allegations of sexual harassment leveled by a disgruntled former employee of Fryer’s research laboratory and contradicted by other employees, to trash his career and cut his budget to the bone. They stopped short of firing him, but Roland Fryer Superstar is no more.
Now it’s Joshua Katz’s turn. He too is a significant figure in his chosen field – Classics. But, during the mid-2000s, he had a consensual sexual affair with an undergraduate student, a clear violation of Princeton’s policies. He admitted the affair and accepted his quite serious punishment – one year suspension without pay. He even said he deserved it.
Surely then, that was the end of the matter.
It wasn’t. Like Fryer, Katz was a tenured professor and perhaps believed that status would protect him from the woke mobs seeking vengeance against unbelievers. If so, he was woefully mistaken. On several occasions since his original suspension, he wrote articles in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere criticizing woke ideology and those who promote it including one campus organization. In 2018, the university again investigated Katz’s relationship with the young woman, but dropped the matter. Then, in 2021, citing hitherto uninvestigated allegations, including the woman’s new claim of sexual harassment the school once again investigated.
But the Title IX office found that Katz hadn’t violated the school’s harassment policies. “Conduct must, among other things, be ‘unwelcome’ in order to constitute sexual harassment,” Michele Minter, Princeton’s Title IX coordinator, said in a report reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. But both Katz and his student “were willing and active participants” in the relationship.
“Accordingly,” Miller said, “I am dismissing the formal complaint with respect to sexual harassment.”
So surely that ended the matter, right? Again, no.
But the Office of the Dean of Faculty found other violations. It claimed that Katz hadn’t been fully forthcoming in the 2018 investigation and that he’d discouraged the undergraduate from receiving therapy—a charge Katz repeatedly denied.
So Princeton’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, recommended and its board of trustees agreed to Katz’s firing, ostensibly for an already-adjudicated sexual affair over a decade ago and his alleged failure to be “fully forthcoming” about it years later. That move fairly reeks of pretext. Short of outright lying or fraud, no tenured faculty member has his/her tenure revoked and loses his/her job for that. The reality is that Katz rather loudly contradicted woke agitprop, one of the few truly unforgiveable acts on a university campus.
In both criminal and civil law, accusers generally don’t get two bites at the apple, much less an infinite number of them. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution requires a state that accuses a defendant of criminal wrongdoing to produce its evidence and, if it fails to convict, retire from the field. The topic of exactly when “jeopardy attaches” in such a case is beyond the scope of this article, but the idea is simplicity itself: the state doesn’t get to try and retry a defendant for the same crime until it gets a verdict it likes. It’s one of the bedrocks of due process of law, without which no just society can function.
Civil law is similar. There, a plaintiff must place its evidence before the jury and accept the verdict, barring serious mistakes by the trial judge, jury misconduct, etc. It can only retry the case if new evidence comes later to light or existing evidence was, for some reason, unable to be located and admitted for the jury’s consideration. A second bite at the apple is possible, but only in the rarest of instances.
But Princeton, like all private universities, appoints itself legislature, judge, jury, prosecutor and executioner and thereby gives to itself the power to target a professor and try him as many times as it chooses under the same set of facts. Weirder still, even a “guilty” verdict in the original proceeding isn’t sufficient to preclude future ones. In Katz’s case, Princeton meted out punishment years ago, but, apparently because of utterly unrelated behavior on his part and after a second tribunal and second punishment, he now finds himself looking for another job.
Two similar incidents don’t alone constitute a trend, but I’ll be surprised if we don’t see more of this in the future, i.e., the use of claims of sexual wrongdoing to, at any time, punish those who dare stand up to the woke mob.
Because institutions of higher learning assume the awesome powers they do, they should be bound by the same basic principles of due process that bind the state in criminal proceedings and private litigants in civil ones. Granting themselves an unlimited number of opportunities to attack faculty, students and staff invites the type of flagrant abuse of which Joshua Katz now finds himself the victim.
No serious person believes he’ll be the last.
This article originally appeared at The Word of Damocles.