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Princeton fires tenured professor over sexual misconduct probe

The decision came after an investigation found that the professor, Joshua Katz, had not fully cooperated with the inquiry into a past consensual relationship with a student.
Blair Hall at Princeton University.
Blair Hall at Princeton University. A tenured professor at the school was fired Monday after an investigation found he had not fully cooperated with a probe into a past consensual relationship with a student. Loop Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A tenured professor at Princeton University was fired "effective immediately" on Monday after an investigation found he had not been fully honest or cooperative in a probe into a past sexual relationship with an undergraduate student.

In a statement, Princeton said Joshua Katz, a classics professor, had been dismissed based on 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 former student filed a complaint in 2021 over the relationship, which took place in 2006 and 2007.

The decision to move forward with firing Katz came days after the university's president, Christopher Eisgruber, recommended that the school's board of trustees terminate Katz's employment in a letter, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reviewed the document.

The letter, dated May 10, was based on a report written last November and signed by faculty dean Gene Jarrett, according to the newspaper.

The report said Katz had failed in 2018 to fully cooperate with investigators looking into the consensual sexual relationship he had with the student starting in 2006, after her junior year, and continuing until her graduation, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The 2018 probe found that Katz had violated school policy by entering into a sexual relationship with a student. Princeton suspended him for a year without pay.

The new investigation, prompted by the student's letter, found multiple instances where Katz had "misrepresented facts or failed to be straightforward" during the 2018 probe, "including a successful effort to discourage the alumna from participating and cooperating after she expressed the intent to do so," Princeton said in its statement.

The school added Katz had exposed the student to harm by discouraging her from seeking mental health care, despite her being in distress in what it described as "an effort to conceal a relationship he knew was prohibited."

"These actions were not only egregious violations of University policy, but also entirely inconsistent with his obligations as a member of the Faculty," it said.

Still, supporters of Katz called the push to fire him a political move, with some accusing Princeton of punishing him for speaking out against some of the school's efforts to address its racist history in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.

Katz had written an online essay in July 2020 criticizing an open letter signed by students and faculty calling for a review into racism at Princeton. In his essay, he said he was "embarrassed" for colleagues who signed the letter, saying its demands could pose a potential threat to free speech.

The professor also called the student Black Justice League at Princeton a "small terrorist organization," drawing condemnation from Eisgruber, who, in an editorial published days later, branded Katz's comments “irresponsible and offensive.”

In its statement on Monday, Princeton did not make any mention of Katz's comments.

The professor told The New York Times that he was "angry and heartbroken" over his firing. He said Princeton had treated him with "gross unfairness" after he had given his "entire career" to the school.

Katz's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.