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Katz Showdown At Princeton

Woke mob attacking distinguished Classics professor -- and cowardly university president abandoning him
Screen Shot 2020-07-13 at 11.57.18 AM

Joshua T. Katz, a distinguished Classics professor at Princeton, published a brave essay on Quillette the other day, criticizing a lengthy list of demands by woke Princeton professors. He said there are some things he agrees with. On the other hand:

But then there are dozens of proposals that, if implemented, would lead to civil war on campus and erode even further public confidence in how elite institutions of higher education operate. Some examples: “Reward the invisible work done by faculty of color with course relief and summer salary” and “Faculty of color hired at the junior level should be guaranteed one additional semester of sabbatical” and “Provide additional human resources for the support of junior faculty of color.” Let’s leave aside who qualifies as “of color,” though this is not a trivial point. It boggles my mind that anyone would advocate giving people—extraordinarily privileged people already, let me point out: Princeton professors—extra perks for no reason other than their pigmentation.

Prof. Katz responded to the list’s demand that Princeton apologize to members of the “Black Justice League.” Writes 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. Recently I watched an “Instagram Live” of one of its alumni leaders, who—emboldened by recent events and egged on by over 200 supporters who were baying for blood—presided over what was effectively a Struggle Session against one of his former classmates. It was one of the most evil things I have ever witnessed, and I do not say this lightly.

Back in 2015, when the Black Justice League got going, and occupied the Princeton president’s office, two Princeton seniors wrote about the campus atmosphere for National Review. Excerpts:

While the group stated publicly that it supports free speech, some members’ words and actions contradict this claim. Protesters purport to seek diversity, but what they really want is conformity.

For example, some protesters publicly shame and stigmatize those who question their demands and methods, thus promoting a campus culture of intimidation. Many non-black students who opposed the protest refrained from voicing their criticism out of fear of being labeled as racists and subjected to ad hominem attacks. Some students resorted to an anonymous forum called Yik-Yak to post statements like, “It’s alarming how few people publicly oppose BJL [protesters] even though I’ve gotten the impression that most people don’t support them,” to which another person replied, “If you publicly speak out against BJL people fear being labeled as a racist.”


Many students have witnessed that detrimental labeling firsthand. After attending the protest, I (Devon) was so shocked by what I saw that I felt compelled to speak out against their demands and tactics. In an op-ed in Princeton’s student newspaper, titled “We can do better,” I point out the hypocrisy of anti-racism protesters’ making race-based judgments: “As a fundamental principle of equality, the weight of a person’s opinions should not be a function of their skin color but rather the quality of their arguments.” This article alone caused a group of protesters to scream profanities at me while accusing me of being racist and request that I not be allowed to attend an open forum to voice my opinion. A Black Justice League leader reinforced this fear when she responded to another student’s article by writing that because of his “white privilege” his opinion was “moot” and “of miniscule value.” By focusing on the race of an opponent or portraying him or her as racist, protesters seek to shut down debate rather than engage them with legitimate points of disagreement.

Minority students are also subjected to this racially divisive and stigmatizing rhetoric. For instance, after posting a Facebook status questioning protesters’ demands, a dissenting black sophomore was told by a protest leader to suppress his opinion and instead “stand in solidarity” and support “your people.” He was told that white people did not care about him and that his black peers would pray for him — as if his free thought were a mortal sin. It is appalling that anyone in our nation, let alone a college student who cherishes academic debate, is treated like a traitor or “white sympathizer” for simply expressing thoughts contrary to those of other students of his race. Similarly, Hispanic and black students who oppose the protesters have been called “tokens” of their white peers. The message is clear: Conformity to the protesters’ worldview is required; there is no room for diversity of thought.

Read it all. 

I have no trouble believing that the Black Justice League depended on terrorizing and otherwise intimidating people at Princeton to get what they wanted. If the “Struggle Session” is what Katz says it is, then I have no problem at all calling an organization that carries out such things “terrorist.” (If anybody has a link to that video, please share it.) But for the sake of argument, let’s say that Katz rhetorically exaggerated. So what? If a Princeton professor called a campus conservative group “fascist,” we would roll our eyes, but that would be the end of it.

But that’s not how things happen at Princeton now. We see clearly who has privilege at Princeton, and who does not, in what is now happening to Joshua Katz. Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber, whose office was occupied by the Black Justice League a few years ago, has denounced Katz for abusing free speech. From the Daily Princetonian:

“While free speech permits students and faculty to make arguments that are bold, provocative, or even offensive, we all have an obligation to exercise that right responsibly,” Eisgruber said in a statement to The Daily Princetonian. “Joshua Katz has failed to do so, and I object personally and strongly to his false description of a Princeton student group as a ‘local terrorist organization.’”

“By ignoring the critical distinction between lawful protest and unlawful violence, Dr. Katz has unfairly disparaged members of the Black Justice League, students who protested and spoke about controversial topics but neither threatened nor committed any violent acts,” Eisgruber added.

What a coward. It is Eisgruber’s place to defend free speech by faculty members, not kowtow to radicals. Here’s more from the Princetonian story:

Fellow Classics professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta ’06, who helped spearhead the faculty open letter, said Katz’s “flagrant racism makes our case for us.”

“My fury at the op-ed quickly took a backseat to the realization that it is a racist distraction, intended to divert and disorient those of us who have found common cause and strength in collaborating for a better future,” Padilla Peralta wrote the ‘Prince.’ “And so, in the words of the great American lyricist Method Man, we keep it movin’.”

Eddie S. Glaude GS ’97, chair of the African American Studies Department, said that Katz’s column, particularly his statement about the BJL, betrayed that this “wasn’t about a simple disagreement,” but rather a difference in fundamental values.

“Professor Katz, at times in this letter, seems to not regard people like me as essential features, or persons, of Princeton,” Glaude said in an interview.  “That’s the feeling I got from reading the letter.”

“When the Black Justice League engaged in its student action, they experienced violent threats,” Glaude added. “So what that description minimally does is trigger all of those experiences.”

Glaude signed the faculty open letter.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, the name Dan-el Padilla Peralta may be familiar to you. I wrote about him here.He condemned his own academic field, Classics, as racist, and openly called for the suppression of scholarly publications by white people and men, for the sake of social justice. This is a Classics professor at Princeton. He is an anti-white racist. And people like him are driving things at elite universities, because people like Eisgruber, who ought to be defending liberal institutions and the values upon which they are founded, have spines made of soggy tissue.

The Princeton faculty letter to which Katz responded calls for

a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty, following a protocol for grievance and appeal to be spelled out in Rules and Procedures of the Faculty. Guidelines on what counts as racist behavior, incidents, research, and publication will be authored by a faculty committee for incorporation into the same set of rules and procedures.

These faculty actually want commissars. And somehow, Joshua Katz is the real problem at Princeton?

I presume Katz has tenure, and will be hard to fire. But the university, and his department, can make his life miserable. We know now that the administration at Princeton will not stand by Katz.

What about other professors at Princeton? Are you going to let them devour Katz, and hope the totalitarian beast will be satisfied, and won’t come for you?

And at other colleges? It is time for academics to lawyer up to defend themselves. This isn’t going away.

UPDATE: This statement went out from the Princeton Classics Department today:

A Message to the Community

Last week our colleague Joshua Katz, identifying himself as a professor of classics at Princeton, published a public essay attacking an open letter recommending a series of specific anti-racist actions at the University and signed by many members of the Princeton faculty. The author does not speak for the Department. The views expressed are his and his alone.

The language in which those views are expressed – “terrorist organization,” “baying for blood,” “one of the most evil things I have ever witnessed,” all in the context of vilifying a Black student activist group – activates a long history of language used in this country to incite racial and specifically anti-Black violence. The use of such language is abhorrent at this moment of national reckoning with the continuing legacy of systemic racism and violence, and it has heedlessly put our Black colleagues, students, and alums at serious risk. It is fundamentally incompatible with our mission and values as educators.

We recognize the anger this language has provoked within our community. We mourn the distress and harm it has already caused, especially to students, alums, and colleagues of color.  We gratefully acknowledge all the forms of anti-racist work that members of our community have done and are doing. We affirm our strong commitment to working together to make our department, our field, and our university community more just and equitable.
Michael Attyah Flower, Chair

Brooke Holmes, Director of Graduate Studies

Joshua Billings, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Andrew Feldherr, Chair of the Equity and Inclusion Committee

I find this revolting. The simpering totalitarian language of emotivism: “has heedlessly put our Black colleagues, students, and alums at serious risk. … anger … distress and harm.” This because a white professor dared to criticize a militant black student group that intimidated students and occupied the president’s office.

These people are among the most privileged in the world, and they are totalitarians who are destroying education. God knows how Joshua Katz is going to do his job in that nest of vipers now.