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Classical professor’s lawsuit against Academic Society dismissed in New Jersey court

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A lawsuit filed by classical music professor Joshua Katz, in which the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) had accused him of “visual discrimination”, was dismissed in court on October 5th.

The judge found the lawsuit did not meet the standards required for jurisdiction in New Jersey federal court, but did not rule on the merits of Katz’s claims. The decision leaves the door open for Katz to resubmit his lawsuit against the ACLS in New York, where the company is based.

Katz did not respond to requests for comment, but his attorney Samantha Harris ’99 stressed in an email to The Daily Princetonian that “the court’s decision had nothing to do with whether ACLS had breached its contract” with her client .

“Rather, based on its analysis, the court ruled that New Jersey was not the appropriate forum to hear the case,” Harris wrote. “This means the case can be re-filed elsewhere and we are currently reviewing all of our options.”

In his original complaint, filed in February, Katz alleged that the ACLS, an association of 75 scientific organizations, withdrew an invitation to serve as one of the Society’s representatives at a prominent conference because of a controversy surrounding one of his authors The column was conducted in July 2020.

Katz claimed that after the Society invited him to serve as a volunteer delegate to the Union Académique Internationale, an academic conference in Paris, it withdrew the invitation “only because he expressed views that were perfectly reasonable and through the usual principles of academic freedom are protected, violate the ideological sensibilities of some in science. “

He requested financial compensation, claiming the organization’s actions “caused him significant damage, diminished his reputation and reduced his potential for future progress.”

In April, the ACLS filed a motion to dismiss, arguing, among other things, that it could not be sued in New Jersey and that it had never signed a contract with Katz.

The judge agreed with the first argument and dismissed the case on that basis alone.

“The alleged contract and communication between the plaintiff and ACLS does not lead to the necessary contacts for any particular personal jurisdiction,” the judgment said, stating that the ACLS had entered into an alleged contract with the New Jersey-based professor, “Not enough” to justify jurisdiction.

Katz, who has taught at Princeton for more than two decades and is now a Cotsen professor in the humanities, became the subject of campus controversy last year after writing a column responding to an open letter with anti-racist demands, which was signed by more than 350 of his Princeton colleagues.

Katz’s column argued that some of the demands in the letter would lead to “civil war on campus”, citing the proposal “to reward the color faculty’s invisible work with course relief and summer salary” and “additional staffing for support”. of the Junior Faculty of Color ”as examples.

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In the same letter, Katz also referred to a disbanded student activist group, the Black Justice League (BJL), “a small local terrorist organization that made life difficult for many (including the many black students) who disagreed with their members. Requirements.”

In response, President Christopher L. Eisgruber ’83, the head of the Classics Department, and a host of alumni and faculty members publicly condemned the column. Katz later wrote on the pages of the Wall Street Journal that he “survived” the rejection.

The July 2020 incident recently re-emerged in conservative media as it was included in a new orientation module introduced to new freshmen titled “Getting Known and Heard: Systemic Racism and Princeton University.”

In a chapter entitled “Race and Free Expression”, the module describes how Princeton has dealt throughout its history with what crosses the ‘boundary’ between freedom of speech and expression and racist speech and action. “

It presents a number of historical examples of such tension, including an 1886 editorial “Prince” favoring hosting a minstrel show on campus, a 1949 Triangle Club performance that used Blackface, a 1973 guest lecture by the eugenics advocate and Nobel Laureate William B Shockley and 2015 and 2016 protests by the BJL against a lecture by Charles Murray, author of “The Bell Curve,” and a performance by the Urban Congo student group that mocked African cultures.

The chapter also includes two recent incidents: one with a white student using the N word on social media and another describing the controversy surrounding Katz’s column.

The module describes how Katz “used the opportunity to sharply reprimand the BJL” following the faculty letter on anti-racist actions and contains an excerpt from his column as well as quotations from the Chair of Afro-American Studies Eddie S. Glaude GS ’97 and the Chair of the Lewis Center for the Arts Tracy K. Smith reprimanded his words.

The purpose of the orientation program, according to history professor Beth Lew-Williams, one of the panelists in her accompanying video, was to educate the students.

“When students arrive at Princeton, they enter a community, an institution and a space that was in part created by previous racial beliefs and power systems,” Lew-Williams previously told the Prince. “It is better to understand this legacy we live in than to try to ignore it.”

Critics, such as Professors John Londregan GS ’88 and Sergiu Klainerman, have accused the module of “indoctrination” and especially criticized the site for being “single”[ing] Classical professor Joshua Katz out in a way that is supposed to stigmatize him as a racist. “

Katz’s complaint against the ACLS framed the organization’s alleged rejection in the context of the broader issue of the “culture of abandonment”.

“Persons who express views that deviate from the prevailing ideology of the intellectual elite,” wrote Harris, his lawyer, to the “Prince” in March, “are, if they are not fired immediately, what I would kill by a thousand would call, exposed cuts. “

The alleged rejection, she wrote, “is a perfect example of one of these ‘cuts'”.

Andrew Friedman, a spokesman for the ACLS, told the Prince in March that the society “was formed to encourage both free knowledge sharing and lively debate on ideas” and “would defend the claims made by Dr. Katz Has”. Court.

Friedman did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Katz worked as a trustee at the “Prince” from 2014 to the beginning of 2020, before that from 2006 to 2013 as a faculty columnist.

The lawsuit referred to in this story is Katz v American Council of Learned Societies, Case Number 3: 21-cv-04306-AET-TJB in the US District Court for the New Jersey District. It was first filed in New Jersey State Court by Katz in February and then transferred to federal court in March.

Marie-Rose Sheinerman is a senior writer who has covered COVID-19 policy, faculty controversy, sexual harassment allegations, major donors, campus protests and more. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @rosesheinerman. She previously worked as an editor for news and features and now supports the content strategy.

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