A Princeton classics professor was fired, ‘effective immediately’, on Monday after the university administration discovered he had not been fully honest and cooperative in an investigation into his sexual relationship with a student undergraduate about 15 years ago.

The firing of professor Joshua Katz was a rare case of a tenured professor being fired, and came after fierce debate on campus and in wider political circles over whether he was being targeted for his politics. In 2020, he wrote an article in Quillette, an online journal, which criticized anti-racism proposals by Princeton faculty, students and staff.

The university’s statement on the dismissal didn’t even allude to the issue of free speech. The university’s reasons for the dismissal were based on a “detailed written complaint from a former student who had a consensual relationship with Dr. Katz while a student under his academic supervision.” This relationship dates back to 2006 and 2007, but the former student did not file her complaint until 2021.

Dr Katz, 52, said Princeton treated him with “gross injustice” after giving “his entire career” to the university.

“I am both angry and heartbroken, which is a terrible combination,” he said in a text message Monday evening.

His lawyer, Samantha Harris, said the university’s claim that Dr Katz tried to obstruct the investigation into his sexual relationship with the student was a “misrepresentation”.

And she said: “The university’s decision will have a powerful chilling effect on freedom of expression, because anyone who would like to express a controversial opinion knows that they must first consider whether their personal life can withstand the kind of relentless scrutiny that Dr. Katz’s life began just days after the publication of his Quillette article.

Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber addressed the debate over Dr. Katz during remarks Saturday to alumni who had returned to campus for reunions.

He defended his record on free speech and said the university must act when faculty members violate rules of conduct.

“We take these rules very seriously here and believe that a faculty member is bound by these obligations, regardless of their distinction and regardless of their political views,” he said. “Political opinions are no reason to investigate anyone. Nor are they a defense to investigate anyone.

The university’s statement said a 2021 investigation had “established several instances in which Dr. Katz misrepresented facts or was not candid” during his 2018 undergraduate relationship investigation.

One such instance, the statement said, was “a successful effort to discourage the alumna from participating and cooperating after expressing an intention to do so.” The inquest also found that “Dr. Katz exposed the former student to harm while a student by discouraging her from seeking mental health care despite knowing she was in distress, all for the purpose of to cover up a relationship he knew was prohibited by university rules,” the statement said.

These actions, the statement said, were “not only gross violations of university policy, but also completely inconsistent with his obligations as a faculty member.”

Ms Harris said investigators took things said between Dr Katz and his former student during outbursts of anger and frustration at a stressful time and turned them into much more damning statements, belied by the context he had provided in contemporary emails.

Dr. Katz and his allies pointed out that he had already been punished once – by being suspended – for the relationship, and argued that she was resurrected as a pretext to retaliate against him for Quillette’s article. The article criticized the anti-racist proposals in a July 2020 letter signed by more than 300 Princeton faculty, students and staff.

In the most widely quoted and reviled element of his article, he called a group of students, the Black Justice League, a “small local terrorist organization” that had taken the lives of many students, including black students, wretched.

The dismissal was expected after Princeton chairman Mr. Eisgruber recommended his dismissal in a May 10 letter to the chairman of the board.

The dismissal did not go smoothly. When told that Princeton had announced his dismissal, Dr. Katz’s wife, Solveig Gold, said: “This is news for me. We have nothing. She added: “It’s pretty damning that we don’t have it ourselves.”

She later said that Dr. Katz found out that the college dismissal notice had been sent to the wrong email.