Nassau Hall, photographed in 2013
Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite

Classics professor Joshua Katz was fired Monday by Princeton’s trustees, according to a University statement released Monday evening.

“The dismissal followed an investigation initiated in February 2021, after the University received a detailed written complaint from an alumna who had a consensual relationship with Dr. Katz while she was an undergraduate under his academic supervision,” the statement says. “That relationship was the focus of a 2018 disciplinary proceeding against Dr. Katz, which resulted in a penalty of unpaid suspension for academic year 2018-2019 and three years of probation following his return to the Faculty in 2019.”  

The alumna did not participate in the University’s 2018 investigation but came forward in 2021. The investigation that followed found that Katz “misrepresented facts or failed to be straightforward” during the 2018 investigation and discouraged the alumna from speaking and from “seeking mental health care although he knew her to be in distress, all in an effort to conceal a relationship he knew was prohibited by University rules,” the statement says. “These actions were not only egregious violations of University policy, but also entirely inconsistent with his obligations as a member of the Faculty.”  

The University did not revisit issues for which Katz was already punished and complied with all its rules and proceedings in the case, the statement says.

Katz’s attorney, Samantha Harris ’99, told The New York Times that saying Katz tried to impede the 2018 investigation is a “mischaracterization.” Instead, she and Katz have said that he is being punished for offensive speech: In a July 2020 essay for the online publication Quillette, he described a former student group, the Black Justice League, as a “small local terrorist organization.” 

Harris told the Times: “The university’s decision will have a powerful chilling effect on free speech, because anyone who might wish to express a controversial opinion knows that they must first ask themselves if their personal life can stand up to the kind of relentless scrutiny that Dr. Katz’s life was subjected to … .”

Katz, a tenured professor, was hired by Princeton in spring 1998. His termination by the trustees, who followed a dismissal recommendation from President Eisgruber ’83, is effective immediately, according to the University statement.

Katz was a faculty representative to PAW’s advisory board with a term set to expire in June 2022.

See PAW’s July issue for more on this story.