Classics chair asks Princeton to ‘urgently’ review department culture after Katz misconduct comes to light

Classics department chair Michael Flower announced in an email Tuesday that he has requested Nassau Hall “urgently” conduct a review of his department’s “environment.”

“This environment review, if approved, would solicit feedback and ideas from each of you, and hopefully would result in suggestions and recommendations that will strengthen our community and safeguard its well-being now and in the future,” Flower told students in the email.

Although Flower did not explicitly mention recent allegations about classics professor Joshua Katz, the department’s request comes around two weeks after The Daily Princetonian published an investigation of allegations that Katz engaged in inappropriate conduct with three undergraduate women.

Following publication, Katz acknowledged that he had a relationship with a student that violated the University’s rules and received a one-year unpaid suspension as a result. The University, in turn, said Katz’s description “accurately reflects the relevant facts as we understand them,” and asserted Katz “is able to fulfill his responsibilities as a member of the faculty.”

After the ‘Prince’ investigation was published, the classics department also created a new section of Katz’s course on Homer (CLG 108), and allowed students to switch from the section with Katz to the newly created one, taught by professor Andrew Ford.

“The Classics Department, in consultation with the University administration, decided to add sections of certain courses so that students could continue their coursework as any concerns they raised were addressed,” University spokesperson Ben Chang said.

The Office of Communications did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether Nassau Hall had approved the classics department environment review.

Shortly after the original report’s publication, Flower emailed students to announce a planned department-wide “listening session” with University Title IX administrators to address any concerns raised by the allegations reported in the piece.

“My colleagues and I know that many of you have been greatly upset by the article that recently appeared in the Prince about our department,” he said in an email on Feb. 14. “We are mindful of your concerns and will be taking steps to address them.”

The “listening session” took place on Feb. 22, and according to two student attendees, the administrators facilitating the discussion limited the scope of the conversation to broad comments on University rules.

“We were not allowed to talk about Katz,” one classics graduate student attendee told the ‘Prince.’ “Or rather, we would not discuss any specific cases. Only University policy.”

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Following the meeting, Flower wrote to students on Tuesday morning about “steps the Department is taking to address any worries, unease, or fears.”

In the email, Flower announced his request for a review of the department’s culture by the University and called upon faculty members to “remain vigilant” and “establish an environment in which students feel comfortable bringing incidents to our attention.”

Flower also promised students he is personally committed to reporting any improper behavior to the appropriate channels.

“I pledge to you that if any student, graduate or undergraduate, brings to me or to one of my colleagues an accusation of faculty misconduct,” he said in the email, “it will be reported immediately to the appropriate authority, either the Office of Title IX or the Office of the Dean of the Faculty, depending on the nature of the complaint.”

This spring, Katz was set to teach two courses: Beginner’s Greek: Attic Prose (CLG 102) and Homer (CLG 108). In recent weeks, the classics department created an additional section of CLG 108, occurring on the same days and times as the original, taught by Ford. Since the end of the add/drop period on Feb. 19, Katz’s section currently has nine enrolled students, and Ford’s section has three.

Flower did not respond to a request for comment on the extra section, but Chang explained that the “shared goal of the Department and the University is to ensure that all students will be able to remain on course academically, without disruption, this semester.”

Adele Goldberg, a psychology and linguistics professor, alluded to the new section on Twitter.

“Classics has had to run a shadow class for all the students who didn’t feel comfortable taking a course from him after the story in the Princetonian broke,” she wrote.

Still, the classics graduate student spoke positively of the department’s efforts to address student concerns.

“I do get the sense that the department is trying to do what they can,” the student wrote.

For Katz’s other class, CLG 102, only one section remains visible on the Registrar’s Course Offerings page. Early in the semester, at least seven students were enrolled — a number that, since the publication of the ‘Prince’ investigation, has dropped to three.

No alternate section currently exists for CLG 102 on the Registrar’s website.

Since the initial allegations and Katz’s later statement were published, several University community members have spoken out about Katz’s behavior.

Nadirah Farah-Foley ’11, a classics alumna who has previously been critical of Katz, told the ‘Prince’ she feels the University ought to prioritize “transparency and accountability.”

“As a start,” Foley said, “perhaps the university could release a statement detailing what went into the investigation, who oversaw it and rendered a decision, what steps were taken, and any measures currently in place to both remedy past injury and prevent future harm to students.”

Goldberg called the University’s response “disappointing,” taking issue with the administration’s position that Katz is able to fulfill his responsibilities as a member of the faculty.

“Which responsibilities exactly is he able to fulfill?” she tweeted. “I guess he can mentor students. Oh wait.”

One undergraduate student affiliated with the classics department, speaking on the condition of anonymity, shared Goldberg’s sentiment.

“I don’t think [Katz] should be allowed near undergraduate student advisory positions again,” the student told the ‘Prince,’ “and I don’t think a student should ever be forced into a position where they have to take a class with him (which is kind of impossible in a small department), which leads me to question why he should remain a faculty member.”

The student said that “the decision to keep him as a faculty member makes me think the University doesn’t share these concerns.”

Stuart Taylor ’70, the president of Princetonians for Free Speech, an organization that previously denounced the ‘Prince’ reporting on Katz as “McCarthyism” and published Katz’s statement responding to the report, said that Katz had already been held accountable for his actions.

“I think that any calls for additional punishment or dismissal [of Katz from the University],” Taylor said in an email, “say more about the people demanding such cruel treatment of the professor.”

But for sociology and public affairs professor Jennifer Jennings, the allegations about Katz’s conduct evidence a broader “structural problem” that warrants attention.

“Male faculty treating women — whether undergraduate or graduate students, postdocs, or colleagues — as their personal playground is as common as it is disgusting,” Jennings wrote on Twitter.

Jennings added that institutions of higher education should be held to the highest possible standards.

@Princeton, that means speaking up, in the loudest possible terms, about why [Katz’s] behaviors were wrong in the first place,” Jennings wrote, “and charting a clear path for keeping our undergrad women safe.”

Katz did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

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