Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

We Are All Katz & Sabatini

The personal and professional martyrdom of these high-profile academics is a sign of things to come
Screen Shot 2022-05-20 at 11.06.49 AM

You have read my defenses here of Princeton professor Joshua Katz, who is being persecuted by the university for publicly dissenting from a totalitarian document proposed by black academics and their allies during the Summer Of Floyd. Today, The New York Times reports on it. It’s a pretty thorough basic account, it seems to me. Katz, one of the most distinguished Classics scholars in the world, was fine at Princeton, until he publicly dissented from the neoracist totalitarianism sweeping his institutions in 2020 (here’s what he wrote in dissent). I know the facts in the case, but re-reading them in today’s Times piece, it could not be more clear that Princeton went trolling for any excuse it could find to fire Joshua Katz for being a heretic against wokeness. Excerpt from today’s Times story:

But with attention focused on Dr. Katz, the student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, began an investigation of sexual harassment accusations against him. It culminated in a lengthy report in February 2021 about his sexual relationship with the undergraduate.

Princeton already knew about her. The university had started an investigation after it learned of the relationship in late 2017, about ten years after it happened, and Dr. Katz confessed to a consensual affair. He was quietly suspended without pay for a year.

The Princetonian also reported that Dr. Katz had made at least two other women uncomfortable by taking them out to expensive dinners — and in one case by commenting on the woman’s appearance and giving her gifts. All three women were identified by pseudonyms and could not be reached for comment.

Dr. Katz’s lawyer said there was no pattern of sexual misconduct. He asked numerous students, male and female, to dinner over the years, she said — “so many that he has no idea who that even is.”

The woman in the sexual relationship did not cooperate with the original Princeton investigation. But after the Princetonian report, she filed a formal complaint that led the administration to open a new investigation, which it said was looking at new issues rather than revisiting old violations, according to the university report.

Princeton asserted that Dr. Katz had discouraged the woman from seeking mental health treatment while they were together, for fear of disclosing their relationship; that he had pressured her not to cooperate with the investigation in 2018; and that he had hindered that investigation by not being totally honest and forthcoming, according to the report.

Dr. Katz’s wife, Solveig Gold, said he had lost many friends over the controversy. “Nobody wants to be seen in his presence, in his company, in his friendship,” she said.

I am completely confident that when Princeton fires him, as they surely will, that Joshua Katz will have a lawsuit against the university, and that he will prevail, or at least he will walk away with a handsome settlement from the deep-pocketed institution. But none of this is victory. Prof. Katz’s wife said:

Ms. Gold said her husband had several job offers. “The canceled have a way of looking out for each other,” she said. “But none of them is the job that he has loved doing his whole life.”

Not only that, but Prof. Katz will have to live the rest of his life under a cloud. Will he ever be able to do Classics scholarship again? Doubtful. Academia is so poisonous and so totalitarian that most people would refuse to touch him. This is what Solveig Gold is talking about — not only personally, but professionally.

You think Live Not By Lies is alarmist? Talk to Joshua Katz about totalitarianism in American life.

Or talk to David Sabatini, one of the greatest cancer researchers of his generation, whose career is now in ashes because of what sounds all the world like a vengeful ex-lover. His story appears on Bari Weiss’s Substack, for which let us thank God every day that she had the guts to quit her job at the NYT and go it alone; that website of hers is irreplaceably important. Anyway, here are excerpts from the story, by Suzy Weiss:

Today, Sabatini is unemployed and unemployable. No one wants to be associated with him. Those who do risk losing their jobs, publishing opportunities, friends, visas, and huge federal grants. “What wormhole did my life take, to billionaires and protests and being called a sexual predator? What quirk in the universe allowed this to happen?” Sabatini asked me.

The entrance to the wormhole can be found in Rockville, Maryland, at a hotel that Sabatini was staying at while attending a conference about lysosomes and cancer sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. There, on the night of April 18, 2018, after an evening of whiskey tasting—Sabatini is a whiskey aficionado—he and Kristin Knouse had sex. Knouse was an incoming cancer researcher at the Whitehead, where she would also head her own lab; hers focused on liver regeneration. He was 50. She was 29. He had split with his wife, and was in the process of getting a divorce.

The next month they met up at Knouse’s condo near Boston Common where they discussed a few ground rules for their tryst. They agreed they could see other people. Knouse, Sabatini remembers, had ongoing flings with men who she referred to with nicknames like “anesthesiologist fuck buddy,” “finance bro,” and “physics professor,” and she wanted to keep it that way. Also, they wouldn’t tell anyone. Why complicate things at work? It was all supposed to be fun.

But then, in August 2018, the Whitehead adopted a new Consensual Sexual and Romantic Relationships Policy, which stated that lab heads couldn’t have a “consensual or sexual relationship” with any coworkers. “Not going to H.R. right then was my critical mistake,” Sabatini told me.

At the time, Sabatini didn’t think it mattered much. Things were fizzling. He still cared for Knouse, and they were still close—he had a cancer scare in late 2018, and when he found out he wasn’t dying, she was one of the few people he texted. But he was getting involved with another woman, a microbiologist in Germany.

Knouse didn’t want to let go. In January 2020 she texted, in part: “I get anxious when I don’t hear back from you and then I see you post stuff on Twitter and it provides an admittedly small and silly but still another bit of evidence to this growing feeling that you don’t care about me in the way that I care about you.” He wrote back: “I am sorry but you are being crazy.” In another text, Knouse admitted feeling “stung.” She added: “I think it’s worth thinking about whether you want someone who matches your passion, intellect, and ambition.” He wrote back: “I have to explore this.” (Knouse declined to talk with me. This account is based on interviews with Sabatini, more than a dozen colleagues of both Sabatini and Knouse, legal filings, text messages, emails, and documents obtained exclusively by Common Sense.)

For a few months, Knouse broke off communication with him. Then Covid hit. In April 2020, she reached out via text. She made a dorky joke about the pandemic and enemas. They griped about Covid safety protocols. She invited him and his son to her family’s beach house on Cape Cod for some “low density private beach and pool action.” She bought a new red Audi and sent him a picture of it. Her grandmother died, and he told her he was sorry for her loss, and they went back and forth about her traveling to Pennsylvania for the funeral. “A big hug,” he texted her, “and a safe travels!”

Then, in late summer or early fall—when the whole country was gripped by protests and riots, and everyone was apologizing and reckoning—something changed.

In October 2020, Knouse texted her friends that she was “unpack[ing] a ton of suppressed abuse and trauma from an obvious local source”—an apparent reference to Sabatini. Knouse’s fellowship at the Whitehead was ending, and she didn’t apply for any faculty jobs there. When the new director, Ruth Lehmann, called Knouse to ask why, Knouse complained for the first time of being “harassed.”

In November, Knouse warned her friend—an incoming Whitehead fellow—to “squeeze out as much advice as possible before your mentor is Weinstein’ed out of science.”

In December, at Lehmann’s behest, the consulting firm Jones Diversity sent the Whitehead employees a survey “based in part on Dr. Knouse’s false complaint about Dr. Sabatini,” according to a complaint later brought by Sabatini. All participants were anonymous. Five or so of the nearly 40 employees in Sabatini’s lab took part.

The next month, two former Sabatini lab members lodged complaints to H.R.—the first complaints against him in his 24-year tenure—about “bro culture” in the lab.

This prompted the Whitehead to hire the law firm Hinckley, Allen & Snyder to conduct an investigation on “gender bias and/or inequities and a retaliatory leadership in the Sabatini lab.” The Whitehead never told Sabatini what he was accused of. Former lab members told me their co-workers were sobbing when they came out of meetings with the lawyers, saying that the lawyers had put words in their mouths. “They had a very strong agenda,” one of them told me.

In retrospect, it was already over for this once-in-a-generation scientist.

More, after the law firm’s report came out:

So what exactly had those 248 pages said? What had David Sabatini been found guilty of that merited this kind of punishment? Chiefly, failing to disclose his consensual relationship with Knouse. On top of that, the report found that Sabatini, in his day-to-day administration of the lab, violated the Whitehead’s Anti-Harassment Policy, since his “behavior created a sexualized undercurrent in the lab.” Sabatini’s relationship with Knouse exacerbated things, given his “indirect influence” over her, which violated the Anti-Harassment Policy and ran afoul of the “spirit” if not the letter of another of the institute’s policies.

True, he didn’t supervise Knouse. He didn’t work directly with her. He never threatened her or proposed a quid pro quo. And he certainly didn’t have the power to fire her. But, according to the report, he had “experience, stature, and age” over her. Knouse’s apparent desire to continue their relationship only served to confirm his influence: “That she felt the need to act ‘fun’ to impress Sabatini underscores how Sabatini’s words and actions profoundly impacted her,” the lawyers wrote.

Nor did the lawyers care for the happy hours and whiskey tastings that Sabatini sometimes hosted in his office, which betrayed his “apparent ‘friendliness’ and general propensity to have ‘fun.’” (Knouse, in her counterclaim, says the events were “drunken,” and “conversations quite frequently veered to the sexual.”)

“While we have not found any evidence that Sabatini discriminates against or fails to support females in his lab, we find that Sabatini’s propensity to praise or gravitate toward those in the lab that mirror his desired personality traits, scientific success, or view of ‘science above all else,’ creates additional obstacles for female lab members,” the report concluded.

This was baffling to everyone I spoke to: Nine of Sabatini’s current and former lab employees, a current faculty member at the Whitehead, and half a dozen top doctors and scientists in Sabatini’s field. Most of them would not speak on the record for fear of being associated with Sabatini and derailing their own careers. “It’s impossible to be honest about this and preserve your own skin,” says a scientist who recently worked under Sabatini.

That trainee called the report’s depiction of the lab an “alternate reality,” and the characterization of Sabatini as lascivious and retaliatory “deeply insane.”

“They have the wrong guy,” a female scientist who knows Sabatini and Knouse told me. A female former trainee told me that the climate in Sabatini’s lab was “one of excellence.” She said that Sabatini could be demanding, but he was never demeaning or unfair. “I try to emulate him in my own lab,” another female former trainee said. A third female trainee said the lab could be informal, but it was hardly a locker room. “It just wasn’t in the air.“

I asked a former technician about the notorious whiskey tastings. “These weren’t keggers,” he said. “‘Bench scientists’ and ‘party’ don’t generally overlap.”

The allegations over the relationship and the ones about the lab’s culture served to reinforce each other; if Sabatini was so ill-advised as to hook up with a younger colleague, surely his bad judgment spilt over into his (extremely well-funded) lab. Making such a claim also appeared to be advantageous to the Whitehead.

For one, it would allow Lehmann to be seen as a no-nonsense leader with zero tolerance for the sexism in science that she saw as a challenge. It would also pacify Knouse, who wanted to see Sabatini fired publicly. “Part of me just wants to organize a protest outside of Whitehead and this would be over in a matter of hours not weeks,” wrote Knouse to a friend during the investigation.

Then, there’s the money.

Weiss is talking about how huge government grants keep university labs alive. In the #MeToo era, the state tied those grants to universities taking extremely sensitive positions on anything to do with sexual harassment.

One more excerpt:

In the 24 hours after the report came out, Sabatini’s life fell apart. MIT put him on administrative leave. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute, another prestigious non-profit that funds biomedical research and was paying Sabatini’s salary, fired him. He resigned from the Whitehead, and eventually MIT, at the advice of his lawyers who thought it would help him secure his next job. (“I one hundred percent regret that,” Sabatini told me).

Soon, the biotech startups he’d helped found— Navitor Pharmaceuticals, KSQ and Raze Therapeutics—started severing their relationships with him. Sabatini was axed from professorships, fellowships, and professional societies. Awards and grants were pulled. His income disappeared.

On August 20, Lehmann officially cut ties with Sabatini in an email sent to the whole institute. That was leaked to the Boston Globe within minutes; the news was circulating on Twitter within hours.

“I lost everything. My whole life imploded,” Sabatini said. “I became a shell of what I was.”

Read it all. You have to, to understand all the details. What exists — what people have created — is a system that allows certain favored people to position themselves as victims, and destroy those they have come to hate. Aside from the human tragedy here, think of the scientific discoveries that are now denied to us, because of this vengeful woman, and this vengeful, unjust system we have created — a system that is a Machine incapable of dealing with humanity, in all its complexity.

I have been hearing in private correspondence, and in this blog’s comments section, some people saying that they don’t recognize what America has become, and that they are exploring ways to leave. Others — I’m thinking of a friend who is a very well known academic — says that no matter what, he is staying to fight to the bitter end. The incredible thing is that we are having these conversations at all. I can do the work I do just fine here, for now, but if I were and up-and-coming Joshua Katz or David Sabatini, I would start looking to start my career in Europe or elsewhere abroad, where they aren’t as insane as Woke America has become.

And listen: the thing you see so clearly if you live any time abroad, as I have done in Hungary over the past year, is that America remains a cultural powerhouse, exporting our own insanity to the world. One of the reasons I strongly support Hungarian PM Viktor Orban is that he is not intimidated by any of it, and he understands the need to use what power he has as the country’s political leader to defy this insanity, and to prevent it from taking root in his country.

What I hope to see in our country is a Republican Party come to power on a platform of actively rolling back wokeness, institutionally and otherwise. Not just opposing it rhetorically, but using the power of the state to push it back, hard. No more Joshua Katzes. No more David Sabatinis. No more martyrs to this totalitarian ideology that is destroying our ability to live together as broken human beings.

Readers, what we are seeing happen now is precisely what the refugees from Communism who sought safety in the United States have seen coming. This is why I wrote Live Not By Lies: as both warning and a manual for dissidents. This is something that we have to fight using politics, but in the end, politics will not be sufficient to destroy this evil. This is a cultural war, and this, ultimately, is a war of religion, in the sense that wokeness is more of a political religion than a normal political program.

The important thing to understand is that though Joshua Katz and David Sabatini were high-profile academics, what happened to them could, one day, happen to you, if this is not stopped. You may not see this in your own life and workplace now, but it’s coming, and it’s coming fast. The political scientist Eric Kaufmann warns that it’s going to get much, much worse.From a podcast:

Brian Anderson: About a quarter of Americans have had direct exposure to what we could call critical social justice ideology at work. Younger employees are most likely to have gone through various training programs in this area and support as you just suggested, what I would call illiberalism, progressive illiberalism and what you’re calling cultural socialism.

Your data show that diversity training is linked both to being in favor of cancel culture and also having a greater fear of being subjected to cancel culture. So what explains that particular tension and what does this kind of youthful endorsement of what we’re calling cancel culture these days mean for the future of free speech in America?

Eric Kaufmann: I think it’s a very negative finding in a way for the future of free speech. It suggests there is a sort of package of beliefs, which fit under the label cultural socialism, which a large number of millennials have bought in into millennials and Gen Z. And that sort of deal if you like, that social contract is one that says, I am scared of being canceled, so I’m fearful of losing my job or reputation for something I’ve said online.

This is one of the questions that I put in this, and this question has been asked, a different version of it has been asked by the Cato Institute and similar kinds of findings, levels have been reported. Roughly 35, 36% of Americans are afraid of losing their job or reputation for things they’ve said or posted online in the past or in the present. It goes up to close to 50% amongst those under age 40, so it’s higher.

But what’s interesting is those younger people are much more likely to say, “Well,” in fact, a majority of those under age 25 would say, “Well, this is an acceptable price. My fear of being canceled is more or less an acceptable price to pay to protect minority groups.” So they’re buying into an ideology, which is a pretty sort of, it’s a pretty tough ideology that they’re willing to accept the risk of being canceled in order to uphold what they see as social justice.

So they’re buying the loss of freedom. They’re willing to sacrifice their own freedom to uphold their vision of cultural socialism. And that’s quite interesting to me, it kind of shows. Because a lot of the questions in the past have simply shown that yeah, people are scared of being canceled and yes, that they support free speech and they’re against hate speech, but none of these questions really force people to choose and make trade offs between these values. And when you do that, what you really see is that the older generations tend to prioritize free speech over cultural socialism. The younger generations, if anything, put cultural socialism slightly above free speech.

So I think as that generation enters organizations, they enter that become the median voter. They’re going to change the culture of organizations and probably even law to make it essentially to restrict free speech in the name of social justice.

The coming generation has been propagandized into submission. This is not something that is going to go away by simply voting for anti-woke Republicans this fall (though I hope you will!). This is a struggle that is going to take one or more generations to endure. You’re tired of me saying it, I’m sure, but small-o orthodox Christians and others who are on the dissident side of the culture war must — must! — use this time we have been given to prepare for the long struggle ahead. This is what Live Not By Lies is about. This is serious. The gift of the warning that the immigrants from the Communist world are giving us is not one we should take lightly.



Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now