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That Anglo-Saxon universities, including the most prestigious ones, are increasingly subject to the “woke” cult and the subculture of cancellation is an open secret. News about this drift is so frequent that we even forget how grotesque and disturbing it is. Deconstructing mathematics or physics for perpetuating white hegemony, failing to teach Plato as a colonialist, or describing Mozart as the archetype of imperialism: the list of nonsense is so long that one loses count and gets used to reading them with fatalism, without reacting.
Until, in a moment of lucidity, the gravity of an anecdote makes a dent, it remains rumbling in the conscience and makes us see with horror, that behind the grotesque hides a totalitarian impulse. This is what happened to me when I discovered the case of Joshua Katz, an academic eminence, a world authority in classical linguistics, a professor whom Princeton has just dismissed with fulmination.
On what grounds, financial fraud? Sexual harassment? No, just for publicly criticizing Princeton’s racialist policies. That’s right, even though the very cowardly administration of the university claims otherwise and has tried to justify the professor’s dismissal by dusting off Katz’s past.
A past, moreover, in which there is little to dig into and nothing to hide: in the mid-2000s, as a young professor, Katz had a fully consensual relationship with an older female student. They fell in love.
It was a violation of Princeton’s laws, for which he was sanctioned almost ten years later with a one-year suspension without pay. Katz accepted his punishment without complaint. Was the matter settled? In principle, yes, unless Princeton wanted to use it as a weapon of personal destruction to punish a “crime” of opinion. And so it was.
In the summer of 2020, the assassination of George Floyd aroused a wave of legitimate outrage, but also, it must be said, a mass hysteria conducive to intellectual intimidation and ideological imposition.
In this context, more than 350 people (Princeton students, alumni and faculty) wrote a letter that began with a very lapidary “Anti-blackness is foundational to America” in which they demanded to fight against the “systemic racism” and “white privilege” inherent at Princeton.
Katz didn’t sign the letter. On the contrary, he dared to criticize it in a magazine. Some measures seemed sensible to him. But others, such as paying professors of color more just for being black, throwing away statues, or censoring scholarly research if a faculty committee deemed it “racist,” he found abhorrent. Just as he found it outrageous that the signatories demanded that Princeton apologize to the “Black Justice League,” a group known on campus for its expedient methods and which Katz called a “homegrown terrorist group.”
Katz’s rostrum opened the thunderbox and the ban against the professor: students calling for his head, colleagues tearing their hair out and publicly disowning him, friends withdrawing their salutes without explanation. The president of Princeton, C. Eisgruber, in a superb demonstration of hypocrisy, defended freedom of expression to denounce that Katz did not exercise it with due responsibility. The university itself, inspired by the courage of its president, added Katz’s rostrum to an official list of racist grievances committed by Princeton since… 1886!
Finally, two apprentice journalists from the Daily Princetonian (the university’s gazette) seized the opportunity to show off their instincts as political commissars and set out to investigate Katz’s past. To stumble upon the professor’s infraction and expose it in an “article” that blithely trampled on all the rules of deontology.
But, after all, a pretext for President Eisgruber’s cowardice to open a new investigation against Katz for acts already judged, already sanctioned, committed more than fifteen years ago, and, let’s be honest, of a very relative gravity.
This investigation, by the way, was falsely closed after finding nothing new. In the age of instant posturing and virtuous finger-pointing, being right is the least of it. And so, the turmoil caused by a sham investigation was enough for the board of directors to deliver Katz’s head on a platter held up by an Eisgruber cheered on by the woke pack. Double victory for the president: he gets rid of the uncomfortable teacher by dressing a crime of opinion as a moral fault and, incidentally, sets a precedent to intimidate dissident professors who dare to speak out. Warning to navigators, if they do so, it will be at the price of their professorship.
Beyond the infamy committed against a brilliant academic, the Katz case is a disheartening portrait of elite institutions in full decay. Students silencing professors, rectors complicit in hunting, colleagues living in an atmosphere of permanent suspicion, and herds of students thirsty for indoctrination and dogmas instead of knowledge and reflection. Temples of wisdom eaten away by sectarianism, rampant bureaucratization, and, even worse, a rampant mediocrity that leads to sacrificing their best brains on the altar of a posturing as pharisaical as it is ignorant.
I cannot think of a more frighteningly dystopian academic model than this one, that of prestigious universities turned into sinister caricatures of themselves. But it’s called Princeton, and it’s available to everyone for the modest price of $79,540 per year. Forgive me, then, if I save myself the trouble and expense of financing a master class in woke indoctrination for my children. And please accept my apologies if I have the bad taste to prefer that they study in an institution that allows Joshua Katz and his peers to enjoy their academic freedom and express their opinions without fearing for their future or their honor. It is called freedom of expression.