A tale of two pretexts: Sham investigations silence professors at Central Florida and Princeton

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports:

As universities go, Princeton and the University of Central Florida may not have much in common, but they do share a mechanism for getting rid of inconvenient professors: finding a reason to investigate and fire them over something unrelated, after they’ve said something controversial.

So far, it’s working better for Princeton than for UCF. On May 23, Princeton fired tenured classics professor Joshua Katz following an investigation into a relationship with a student for which he had already been investigated, punished, and returned to campus. Katz’s second prosecution for the same alleged wrongdoing began in 2020 after an op-ed critical of campus activists led to calls for his termination.

Meanwhile, on May 16, an arbitrator ordered UCF to reinstate psychology professor Charles Negy, who was fired in January 2021 after two of his tweets were used as a justification to open a seven-month fishing expedition into his 22-year teaching history. The absence of due process was a key element of the arbitrator’s decision.

UCF’s case against Negy was never likely to survive first-contact with a neutral decision-maker. When an investigation of tweets includes incidents from 2005 — the year before Twitter was founded — either the investigator is lying about their purpose or confused about the linear nature of time.

While the Katz case at Princeton isn’t identical, it shares enough similarities to what happened at UCF that Princeton administrators should view UCF as a cautionary tale. Not the least of those is that Katz is represented by Negy’s attorney (and former FIRE staffer) Samantha Harris.