Academic Freedom Alliance Letter to Princeton University

Princeton University was contacted by the Academic Freedom Alliance in a letter. It requested that the university reaffirm Joshua Katz’s academic freedom.

On the 8th of July 2020 Professor Joshua Katz wrote an opinion article in an online journal. It was a response to the public July 4th letter that many Princeton faculty members signed. He criticized the activities of a small student organization that was active on campus just a year before and called it a “small, local terrorist group.” There were many responses to this piece on campus. The university’s spokesperson stated that Katz could be subject to disciplinary action because of the extramural speech. In a recent university-sponsored orientation program, Professor Katz was criticised by the Carl Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding. The university’s website, which was co-sponsored in part by many university administrative units, including the Office for the Vice Provost Institutional Equity and Diversity shows Professor Katz being criticized by several university officials, including the Classics department and two chairs of academic units.

While the AFA doesn’t have an opinion on institutional speech at universities regarding issues of public controversy, however it does consider it a problematic practice for administrators on campus to utilize their programming and institutional resources to continue public humiliation campaigns against individuals within the faculty. There is no clear boundary on vice-presidents and university deans using their office to disparage faculty members.

We write the following in our letter

The Carl Fields Center’s actions are hard to understand as more than a continuing retaliation against Professor Katz’s speech. It is one thing for university officials to criticize Professor Katz’s speech in their own capacities. It is another thing for the administration to make a memorial of criticism and highlight it in the introduction to every student on the university campus. There is no other instance of university denouncing its faculty members in this manner. If universities want to continue being vibrant centers for intellectual freedom, this is not the right example.

If administrative units made it a routine to condemn faculty members who are not in agreement, the university atmosphere would rapidly become toxic and unfavorable.  The risks of campus speech being censored are high if the Office for the Vice President for Campus Life makes use of its position as an administrative unit on campus in order to arrange official university programming. If it sets up an administrative system to make heterodox voices a campus pariah, the university cannot create a supportive climate.