We’ve run plenty of stories about people who have been the target of mobs—what's happened to them and their challenges and resilience in the aftermath.
What we’ve rarely heard—here or anywhere else—is what it’s like for the person who loves the mob’s target. What it’s like to watch someone you love being torn to pieces.
Solveig Gold is one of those people. She’s smart, funny, angry and brave. Mostly brave.
Below is Solveig’s story. It’s about bullies and Puritanism and the insane state of our universities, but really it’s a story about freedom and love and the things that endure, no matter what.
I decided to apply for early admission to Princeton after sitting in on Professor Joshua Katz’s seminar in April of 2012. I’m afraid I don’t remember the content of the seminar, but I do remember the way he captivated the classroom—the way his students hung onto his every word and the way he hung onto theirs.
Last summer, I married him. This week, Princeton fired him.
He isn’t the Princeton Charming I expected to win in my undergraduate years. I entered college in 2013 under the shadow of Susan Patton, a Princeton alumna and mom who had some months before written a widely read letter to female students in the Daily Princetonian, urging them to find a husband on campus before they graduated. My friends and I mocked Patton relentlessly, and yet deep down we knew what she said was true: Smart women have a hard time finding worthy men. We set out to find ours.
Along the way, we’d joke about our professors. I swooned when a handsome Platonist read excerpts from the Symposium; I sighed in a lecture about art and love. My a cappella group laughingly serenaded an instructor on a trip to Greece.
I didn’t joke about Joshua, though—or Katz, as I called him then. It didn’t even occur to me. He was a balding nerd with a belly, and I adored him, but not like that. I adored him because he saw and brought out the best in me as a student and scholar.
That hardly made me special. Everyone at Princeton adored Joshua, male and female alike. What he lacked in looks he made up for in true friendship and generosity. There is a reason why he won Princeton’s highest teaching awards so early in his career.
His colleague and former student, Dan-el Padilla Peralta, once detailed in his memoir the time he confided in Joshua about his undocumented status. “I felt what I never felt around my college friends: the compulsion to spill the beans on my undocumented woe.” With Joshua’s encouragement, Padilla Peralta worked to become documented.
Padilla Peralta is but one example of the countless students Joshua supported during his nearly 25 years on Princeton’s faculty. He counseled a student through an unplanned pregnancy. He directly intervened to save two students from suicide. For all the talk these days of treating students with empathy and respect, Joshua walked the walk.
And then out we walked through FitzRandolph Gate in June of 2017. The gate marks the divide between the town of Princeton and Princeton campus, and students walk through it only twice: at the start of their freshman year, to mark the beginning of their time as Princeton students, and at Commencement, to mark the end. Because I was one of the seniors chosen to sing “Old Nassau” at Commencement, I was onstage for the ceremony alongside the faculty. As we peeled off to march two by two down the aisle and out the gate, I was serendipitously joined from across the stage by Joshua. We laughed and took a selfie. God’s sense of humor, I guess.
I flew off to England for an MPhil in Classics. I was in love with a boy in California, had lingering feelings for a boy in New York, and was nonetheless eagerly dating Englishmen and Germans at Cambridge. In the midst of it all, I sent Joshua an old article: Cambridge Classics Professor Mary Beard on the subject of the erotics of pedagogy. What did he make of it?
The conversation between us changed. He wrote me a letter. We met in Paris. And the rest, as they say, is history.
My now-97-year-old grandmother, who lived just a few blocks from Joshua in Princeton, was the first to suspect a spark: After my grandfather’s death, Joshua began to pay her regular visits, and she decided that if we weren’t dating already, she would try to set us up. My parents and friends were cautiously supportive—and not remotely surprised that I’d fallen for an older man. As my mother said, “No relationship is perfect. If your biggest problem is a 25-year age gap, you’re doing pretty well.”
Joshua, for his part, never pretended to be perfect. Early on in our courtship in 2018, he confided in me about the worst mistake of his life: a consensual relationship with a Princeton undergraduate in the mid-2000s. He told me about the angst and pain it had caused them both. And he told me that a third party had, after all these years, brought the relationship to the attention of the university and that he would likely be disciplined with a yearlong unpaid suspension. (He was.) He told me I should leave him then and there.
I went for a walk. And then I came back.
In November 2018, Joshua bought my father a martini and asked for permission to marry me. In March 2019, we found our dream home in Princeton. That December, Joshua proposed. We began lining the house with bookshelves—an oasis for an academic life. Homer for him; Plato for me.
But then Joshua, a lifelong library rat, did something out of character. When hundreds of his colleagues in July 2020 signed a letter with demands in the name of anti-racism, he penned a response in Quillette. He agreed with some of their demands (the expansion of an undergraduate fellowship program, summer move-in allowances for new assistant professors) but found others to be deeply immoral and discriminatory, including extra pay and perks for faculty of color and the formation of a committee to investigate and discipline so-called racist scholarship. He also described a long-defunct student group, the Black Justice League, as “a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands.”
We knew the piece would be controversial, but we didn’t anticipate what would follow. Princeton’s President Eisgruber denounced Joshua in the Daily Princetonian. Academics around the country accused him of inciting violence. He lost a prestigious outside appointment. Students and alumni petitioned the university to discipline him. A university spokesman said ominously that the administration would “be looking into the matter further.”
Eventually, the university called off its investigation. But the damage was done: Joshua was now a pariah.
Dan-el Padilla Peralta—the one he helped on the path to citizenship—publicly rebuked Joshua for his “flagrant racism.” The head of Joshua’s department, a friend with whom he had regular sushi lunch dates, condemned Joshua’s words in an email to the entire Princeton Classics community and issued an official statement on the department website, without ever saying a word to Joshua himself. We passed him on the sidewalk some months later; he looked the other way.
And then there was Joshua’s best friend at Princeton, a professor who had been running around our yard with her dog mere days before. Not only had we just sent her family a save-the-date to our wedding; Joshua was considering asking her to be in the wedding. My Jewish grandmother always said that a true friend is one who would hide you under the floorboards when the Nazis come, and Joshua once told me that this friend was of that caliber.
He was wrong. She said nothing to him for weeks, before eventually writing a few lines expressing her disappointment. They haven’t spoken since.
I watched the man I love become a shell of his former self, as he realized that many of his closest friends were not friends at all.
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to us, within days of Joshua’s Quillette article, the Daily Princetonian began digging into his personal life and discovered the consensual relationship from the mid-2000s for which he had previously been punished. The frenzy was reignited.
The woman with whom Joshua had the relationship had declined of her own volition to participate in Princeton’s 2018 investigation. Indeed, she had repeatedly by email expressed her dismay that the school would even consider punishing him. In 2021, however, in the wake of both the Daily Princetonian’s McCarthyist reporting and her discovery that Joshua was engaged to marry me (we have this in writing), she demanded that the university investigate Joshua anew. Princeton was all too happy to comply.
For well over a year we lived under the sword of Damocles, with the university’s allegations against Joshua seemingly changing by the minute. The university disingenuously used a handful of cherry-picked email exchanges to find “new” grounds to punish Joshua, when really they were subjecting him to double jeopardy. We turned over thousands of emails in an effort to provide more context, but Princeton didn’t care—they didn’t even mention in their investigative report the exculpatory evidence he supplied.
In the midst of it all, though, we were married: July 17, 2021, during that blissful time when everyone thought Covid was over. No one wore masks, but we did hire security. Certain of Joshua’s old friends were noticeably absent, but with new and better friends we danced the night away. Joshua and I gripped each other tightly—so tightly that I had to have an emergency repair on my engagement ring before our honeymoon.
In the end, Princeton found him guilty, even as they were busily defaming him as a racist to the entire freshman class.
Unsurprisingly, the ongoing attacks on my husband have been coupled with attacks on our marriage, as Twitter trolls and tenured academics alike try to get me to turn, as so many others have, on my husband.
I’ve been told that I was “groomed” because, for instance, we sometimes exchanged emails at 4 a.m. when I was a student (never mind that Joshua answers all his emails at 4 a.m.). The reporter who made so much of this never bothered to ask me for a comment, but I assure you: I’m incapable of being groomed. (I do, though, enjoy grooming Joshua, who stopped visiting the barber during the pandemic.)
In 2022, it seems, all sex is to be celebrated—except between older men and younger women. Student-teacher relationships are unwise for all sorts of reasons, and Joshua will be the first to tell you why. But when the same people who think that children can consent to puberty blockers claim that a 21-year-old woman cannot possibly consent to a relationship with her professor, it’s hard to take them seriously.
Let me tell you about our relationship. We wake up, we compare Wordle scores (and Dordle and Quordle), I make him exercise. We clean the dishes from the night before while singing made-up songs about bears, he chides me for not squeezing out the sponge, we spend some hours apart writing, I tell him what I want for lunch, he makes it for me, we go back to writing, we pick a new recipe to cook for dinner, I chop the onions, he minces the garlic, and then I make him dance with me around the kitchen. We’re weird, but we’re extremely well-matched.
My point here is that we are a relationship of equals. Power transfers back and forth in any relationship, and my relationship with Joshua is no different. But ask anyone who knows us: I am the alpha.
And as much as the naysayers have tried to get me to feel ashamed about my husband, I am tremendously proud of him.
I am proud to be married to a man who owned up to his one big mistake and repented for it. A man with courage of conviction, who did not walk back his comments about anti-racism when his colleagues demanded he do so. A man who did not let despair and depression win, even as lifelong friends deserted him overnight.
The prospect of no longer teaching at Princeton is devastating for my husband: He loved his job, and he has given his entire adult life to the university. The relentless bad-faith efforts to destroy his career and reputation have driven him sobbing into my arms more nights than I can count.
I suppose Padilla Peralta, who last year made a splash in the New York Times Magazine for his stated desire to destroy the existing discipline of Classics, is getting his wish. As was widely reported, Princeton’s department last year voted to eliminate its language requirement for undergraduates. Now it has eliminated its most legendary language instructor. The great irony is that the elimination of the language requirement was, in part, to encourage students to take ancient languages other than Latin and Greek . . . and Joshua was the only member of his department qualified to teach multiple such languages: Egyptian, Sanskrit, Tocharian, Syriac, Akkadian, Old Norse, Old Irish, etc. Indeed, Joshua’s earliest academic publications concerned Native American languages. His work was the least Eurocentric in the department.
And then there is the chilling message Princeton has sent to Joshua’s colleagues and to academics everywhere: step out of line politically, and we will find a way to bring you down. Show us the man, and we’ll show you the crime.
Perhaps Joshua’s tormentors have no skeletons in their closets—but then again, several senior administrators who have served in the last few years are or have been in romantic relationships that would now violate Princeton’s official policies. The Ivory Tower is a house of cards. And for the first time in my life, I’m sorry to say, I’ll almost be glad to see it fall.
I hate that I feel that way. That is the rhetoric of people like Padilla Peralta, who, during the same freshman orientation session in which Joshua was singled out as a racist, told the freshman class that they should “tear down this place and make it a better one.”
The truth is that I have an abiding love for Princeton as an institution. It isn’t the place I once knew. Maybe it will be again. Thankfully, my husband is exactly who I always knew him to be.