How Non-Existent Cancel Culture Works at Princeton and Elsewhere
Last week in Quillette, a Princeton Classics professor, Joshua T. Katz, published an article criticizing a letter signed by some of his institution’s professors “to block the mechanisms that have allowed systemic racism to work, visibly and invisibly, in Princeton’s operations.” The faculty letter insisted that “Anti-Blackness is foundational to America” and that it was “rampant” even at progressive institutions such as the school formerly known as the College of New Jersey. The letter articulated a long list of demands regarding the recruitment and retention of people of color as faculty members and students and even called for the creation of
a committee composed entirely of faculty that would oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and publication on the part of faculty, following a protocol for grievance and appeal to be spelled out in Rules and Procedures of the Faculty. Guidelines on what counts as racist behavior, incidents, research, and publication will be authored by a faculty committee for incorporation into the same set of rules and procedures.
In the Quillette article, Katz agreed with some of the letter’s action items but said that the above “scares me more than anything else: For colleagues to police one another’s research and publications in this way would be outrageous.” On its face, the call to investigate and discipline research and publications of other faculty is a complete refutation of academic freedom.
But of course, “cancel culture” doesn’t exist, right? So there’s no problem here, only the disenfranchised faculty of an Ivy League institution finally getting to join a conversation from which they’d been excluded. As Nesrine Malik puts it in The Guardian, “what is really unfolding here is a cohort of established influencers grappling with the fact they are losing control over how their work is received.”
Such a formulation doesn’t seem to be capture what’s going on in the case of Katz. In his Quillette article critiquing his colleagues’ call for the right to “oversee the investigation and discipline of racist behaviors, incidents, research, and public
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