Earlier this spring, Antigone, An online classic journal for the general public, has gained the ire of many classists by publishing an article by a prominent scholar. There was nothing wrong with the article, which followed all the professional standards and was quite thoughtful. However, the scholar who wrote it has been in the news for the past few years on allegations of sexual harassment of students. For those who are consciously surprised, it is appropriate Give him a platform Just because he is an exceptional scholar? In other words, will our awareness of the person’s character affect how we understand what the person actually said?
Since then, the scholar in question, Joshua Katz, has been fired from Princeton University, among other allegations, for presenting false information during a 2018 investigation into sexual misconduct with a graduate student under his academic supervision – a controversial firing that some media (and Katz himself) has. Trying to turn it into a violation of his right to freedom of speech, in retaliation for what he called “crazy madness” on another occasion. The argument is: he is being dismissed because of unpopular comments on race issues. But there is more to this story than meets the eye. The problem is one that ultimately transcends this small corner of the academic world, and Katz is a small part of this larger story.
Also this spring, David Swartz, an American historian of religion, wrote an article on the 50th anniversary of its publication. The politics of Jesus It is a reflection of how the author of the book, The Legacy of Lifelong Abuse, has completely shattered the powerful intellectual labor of the eminent theologian John Howard Eoder. As Swartz pointed out, “It is a matter of grave concern that the author of a book on peace could be so violent.” In addition, in light of recent reports of sexual abuse at the Southern Baptist Convention, historian Beth Allison Barr Ask anyone why the leaders involved should trust the scholarshipSome of whom have previously been considered as leading intellectual voices.
Our anger over this tragic event is justified, but it also reveals an amazing division in our society. Just as modern American society does not seem to act outwardly in terms of morality, the discomfort that some have expressed with the abuse of power and the complete violation of human dignity shows that some of us still make character-based judgments. And it is these character-based judgments that ultimately condemn people like Joshua Katz, or John Howard Yoder, or former SBC president Paige Patterson, one of the archbishops in the SBC report.
For those who judge this character, they extend beyond the person to the person’s scholarship and raise the question: Can we believe in the brainchild of such a morally flawed person? The surprise here, however, is that it is not the conservatives who judge the character in this situation. It is rather liberal.
Conservative media and academic institutions have sincerely embraced Katz’s cause. The astonishing and devastating reality that emerges is that many social conservatives – who claim to care deeply about virtue in society – do not care only about the character of individuals.
The unfortunate consequence of the lack of concern about character is that immoral behavior in a variety of settings, including secular academia, remains remarkably common (and remarkably often overlooked). The 2019 Society for Classical Studies sexual harassment report shows just how common such abuse is in academic institutions and settings. Worryingly, only 3 percent of transgressors have ever faced the consequences. For all recent manifestations of injustice, the Southern Baptist Convention, it appears, does not have the exclusive right to conceal the outrageous abuse of power.
So why are conservatives who claim to take quality and character seriously still willing to platform known abusers or harassers and advance their academic careers? And why, in contrast, it is the social liberals who are willing to have this difficult conversation about character and its impact on the individual’s career, a topic Sarah Scholin discussed in an article a few years ago about a businessman in child pornography. Who was once a leading scholar in the field of classics?
The time has come for us to unite to think of character as a democracy and to acknowledge that such abuse of power affects more than just the immediate victims. A parallel phenomenon that comes to mind is Socrates, the most famous thinker of classical Athenian democracy. Despite the flawed character of Socrates, despite his great education and erudition, he was ultimately preoccupied with the Athenian context. How?
For decades, Socrates was a leading public intellectual in Athens, developing students as thoughtful and engaged citizens. In the process, he arranged them in another way, sleeping with at least one of them — alcibiads. In the end, the results of Socrates’ teaching were decisively problematic. In the last decade of the Peloponnesian War, his students twice went to overthrow Athenian democracy.
And so, when the Athenians tried Socrates in 399 BC and tried to defile the youth, they seemed to be judging his character. In particular, seeing the results of his education among his students, Athenians saw his character as a threat to democracy. Socrates’ defense, in the process, stings Athenians to think more deeply about his high standard of scholarship as a “godfly”, sounding deaf to those Athenians who voted to condemn him because Katz’s own words are now being heard by some. Dismissing public intellectuals is never random. They represent the judgment of a character that should unite the left and the right, the so-called liberals and conservatives, who support a belief and who live with a secular compass.
In Katz’s case, the impact of his character on the lives and educational journeys of many students is undeniable. Moreover, the comments he has made in recent weeks show that he is unable to understand and repent of all these aspects of the character that many now find reprehensible. In particular, in a recent part he wrote for The first thing, Katz commented that he enjoyed “night-to-night conversations” with students. Intended as a boast point about his own Socrates-like nature, the comment has an ominous underlying.
Katz’s remarks reminded me of a conversation I had with a graduate professor 20 years ago, when I was applying for a PhD. Classic program. My professor looked at the list of programs I was planning to apply for and passed them along with the female students in their faculty, “someone who likes to read Ovid in the middle of the night.” At the time, Princeton had an excellent reputation, and I got a really wonderful education there as a graduate student. The professors I studied with were amazing (and highly ethical!) Scholars and mentors. And yet, open secrets about the existence of abusers on the field are now bubbling under the surface for years. Is the calculation coming now?
In Athenian democracy, Socrates was able to stay away from immoral behavior for decades, until the Athenians could no longer take it. In many cases today, some leading thinkers, be it SBC or the American Academy, have long been the victims of abuse — students, colleagues, family members, and members of their communities. But not their only story, thanks. These include the same organizations, albeit sometimes less comfortable and of course more calm, thinkers and professors who care deeply for their students and communities and who create scholarships that reflect their qualities. With increasing calls to dismiss known abusers and harassers, it is time to openly judge character and celebrate character decency.