Princeton professor forced to defend use of the word ‘terrorist’ to describe Black Justice League

PRINCETON, NJ- A Princeton University professor is defending himself after his criticism of a letter sent to the Princeton campus this past summer which was advocating for preferential treatment of faculty of color drew a response from the campus community, according to The College Fix.

At a recent event held at Yale University by a free speech group (who knew those actually existed on a college campus?) Professor Joshua Katz defended his response to the Princeton letter in a piece he wrote called “Declaration of Independence,” in which he questioned some of the racial justice demands made last summer by his fellow faculty members, who accused the university of systemic racism.

The Zoom conference was held on Dec. 2 and was hosted by the William F. Buckley program and was entitled “How to Lose Friends and Influence People,” a play on the Dale Carnegie book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”

 

Katz said, “I believed then and I believe now that my tone was largely measured. I did not write a hit piece.”

After writing the piece, Katz was targeted by campus activists, he said, mostly because he had used the word “terrorist” to describe a defunct black student activist group at Princeton. In his piece, it was described as a “small local terrorist organization.”

“I understand why some people didn’t like my description of the BJL [Black Justice League], but I and others don’t like many things the BJL did, and I think about the phrase before enshrining it in print,” he said.

Katz said that at the university, members of the BJL had terrorized people who disagreed with them, which included some fellow black students. This was accomplished via name-calling and bullying tactics.

“More to the point, we have for four years been hearing the phrase ‘President Trump is a Nazi,’ though no one who says this believes that he is a member of the American or any other Nazi party. This is metaphor at work,” Katz said.

Katz also cautioned people who might make the claim that he was being imprecise or hyperbolic by the use of the word terrorist, saying they should be cautious about throwing stones.

‘Let me suggest that you be very careful of how you express yourselves, because if you think you can escape the wok juggernaut, you are mistaken,” he said.

“The curse of misunderstanding another’s language whether willfully or not will turn on you too, and possibly just for uttering one unorthodox syllable, or a wrong word, or—God forbid—an unfashionable idea.”

Katz said that while many of his fellow professors concentrated on a single phrase in his article, they missed the larger points.

“I did not call students terrorists,” he said. “It’s not just that I spoke of no one by name. I said nothing about current students. I spoke about alumni…who had belonged to an organization that had not existed for four years…when my critics continued to claim that I said things that I did not, that shows an inexcusably cavalier attitude to truth.”

Conversely to the criticism Katz has received, he has also received a ton of support. He said that for every one negative message he got, he received 75 positive ones, noting he had heard from numerous politicians, peers, national journalists, higher education groups and people across all political persuasions.

“It’s nice to know there is still some hope in academia,” he said.

He noted that an investigation by Princeton administrators into his letter was dropped over the summer. Katz said they really had no other choice, since in 2015 they adopted the Chicago Principles of free expression.

Katz downplayed any notion that he was ever “canceled.”

“I refuse to allow myself to be silenced for nonexistent crimes,” he said.

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Despite being excoriated by his peers and students at the school with some graduate students boycotting his classes, he is refusing to back down and said he will continue to speak freely.

“My interest in the rough and tumble of contemporary soci-politics is largely born of recent unfortunate necessity,” he said.

In fact, Katz said that he frequently receives emails from “newly embattled” professors looking for a friendly ear or camaraderie.

The letter which prompted Katz’s response was published ironically on the 4th of July.

In the letter, it speaks to the presence of “anti-black racism” on the Princeton campus, and suggests that people of color be moved to the front of the line in filling administration openings, along with other requests. Over 450 faculty members, Yale students, alumni and others signed the letter.

Katz’s letter supported some of the points made in the Princeton letter, however felt it went too far in advocating for affirmative action.

In his letter, Katz wrote:

“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,” Katz wrote, citing the letter.

The faculty letter also wanted Princeton to issue an apology to the Black Justice League.

“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 many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands,” Katz replied.

“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.”

That got the attention of the student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian¸ which published an op-ed signed by 91 students and alumni which slammed Katz’s letter.

“In his declaration, Katz called the Black Justice League a ‘local terrorist organization,’ misgendered [egad!] one of its alumni leaders and wrote that a recent Instagram live stream naming the racism of former classmates was ‘one of the most evil things [he has] ever witnessed,’ comparing it to the Communist Party of China’s brutal struggle sessions in which people were beaten and killed,” the op-ed read.

“Considering that this declaration comes in response to a faculty letter on anti-blackness at Princeton, spearheaded by a black faculty and addressing a history of exclusion and gaslighting against black students and faculty, it is disturbing that Katz reserves the word ‘evil’ for the students who championed these changes, rather than for racism itself.”

The op-ed continued:

“Not only is the content of this declaration poorly conceived, but it is also an attempt to distract from the necessity of making anti-racist changes throughout the University as a whole.”

The criticism of Katz was furthered in yet another op-ed, as well as an opinion piece written by Princeton’s President Christopher Eisgruber.

“[T]he fact that we have the right to insult one another does not mean that insulting people is the right thing to do,” Eisgruber wrote. “On the contrary, Princeton’s free speech principles also affirm that ‘all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect.’”

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Author: Pat Droney

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