Princeton Fires Tenured Professor, Draws Support And Backlash

A Princeton University professor has been fired for a former relationship with a student, but some feel politics are at play.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Professors have long been notoriously linked to controversial relationships with college students. Unlike with school-aged children, the contention of these relationships is often questioned, as although they are oftentimes of the age of consent, it is still largely viewed as inappropriate. Because of this, most higher education institutes fully bar educators from forming such relationships. But in the case of the recent firing of a tenured Princeton University professor, some are skeptical that there were foul reasons at play for his abrupt removal.

Joshua Katz had been a renowned professor at Princeton University for almost 25 years. But on Monday, he was precipitously fired. NBC News reported that Katz was dismissed following a recent investigation that found he had not been fully honest or cooperative in an extensive probe years ago regarding a sexual relationship with an undergraduate student nearly two decades ago. However, some people feel this reason was a diversion from the real reason the school may have wanted to get rid of him, based on politics.

It all began in 2006 when the Princeton University professor formed a consensual sexual relationship with an at-the-time student.  After learning of the relationship, the school underwent an extensive probe into the situation in 2018. At the conclusion of the investigation, the university stated that Katz had violated the school’s policy, which states that professors are not allowed to form sexual relationships with students. His punishment was a year-long suspension without pay.

The situation may have seemed to be resolved, but once again was brought up in 2021. The former student, who had ended the relationship with Katz years prior, filed a complaint with Princeton University. The student’s letter of complaint elicited another investigation. This time, the school claimed they had found more evidence that depicted how Katz may have misled the 2018 investigation. 

Within their findings, the school cited multiple instances where it was found that the Princeton University professor coerced the student not to cooperate in the examination. Furthermore, they found proof that he had deterred her from seeking mental health care, despite her cries for help. The school believes that all of this was blatant acts of harm against the student, and cited their new findings as the reason to terminate Katz.

But despite the proven wrongdoings of the professor, there are some who feel that there is another more egregious reason the school wanted Katz gone. All of this leads back to July of 2020, when the Princeton University professor wrote an online essay criticizing an open letter from staff and students calling on the prestigious school to review its role in racism in the wake of the death of George Floyd.  Because the school could not fire him merely for his views, supporters of Katz’s viewpoints say it was a ploy against free speech. Upon his firing, Katz wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, saying that he was a victim of cancel culture, which led to his dismissal.

Although many presume that the Princeton University professor’s firing was a political move from the school, there is really no way to prove these beliefs, as it is all hearsay, for now. It may seem dubious, considering he had already served his apparent disciplinary measures following the student-professor relationship violation, but the school did, in fact, find more harrowing details to the situation. Semantics aside, there is concrete evidence that Katz violated school policy, and furthermore put a student in the way of potential harm, persuading her not to seek mental health in favor of saving his reputation. Maybe politics are at play as well, but either way, punishment has been served.