Red flags track former UCLA faculty through elite colleges before he issues threats – Orange County Register

By STEFANIE DAZIO | Related press

LOS ANGELES – A red flag about his behavior towards women followed Matthew Harris on an academic journey that took him to three of the nation’s most prestigious universities – Duke, Cornell and then is the University of California, Los Angeles.

Former classmates at Duke and Cornell, where he attended before becoming a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA in recent years, have described him as inappropriate and intimidating, with his behavior obsessions like sending too many emails and text messages to some women expose them to and at least one instance, sexual harassment. Another said she changed her morning routine at Duke weeks after Harris learned of her schedule and texted her messages like, “I’m here, where are you ?”

Last week, a SWAT team in Colorado arrested Harris after he allegedly emailed an 800-page document and posted a video threatening violence against dozens of people at UCLA, prompting the school to cancel classes. live in one day. The so-called manifesto contains racist threats and uses the words “bomb”, “kill” and “shoot” more than 12,000 times. Harris is scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.

In online classroom assessments, interviews and emails obtained by the Associated Press, current and former students at all three universities have accused the school of negligence for letting Harris fail earlier, regardless disobey his conduct.

“I have no idea how this guy is still teaching,” one of his UCLA students wrote in October 2020 during an anonymous class review.

Two Duke alumni, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because of fears for their safety, said that although they did not report Harris to university officials at the time, his conduct We were known in the little philosophy show and they were not. feel that they will be supported by the faculty if they wish to continue.

Summing up in the years since the massive mass shootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech and elsewhere, allegations by students at three top colleges raise questions about the line between unethical behavior comfortable and actionable, a university’s duty to encourage reporting of it, and an institution’s duty to prevent it from happening at another.

Student descriptions of alarming behavior over the years raise another question: If anything, what did colleges do to get Harris’ help?


A graduate student at Duke as he completes his Ph. in 2019, Harris also attended Cornell for a year before UCLA hired him as a postdoctoral fellow and faculty member – a prominent post – until he was placed on “investigative leave” on March last year after being accused of sending sexually explicit and violent content to his students.

“Clearly Duke shouldn’t have turned him over to us, and neither should Duke and Cornell transfer him to UCLA,” said Adriene Takaoka, a philosophy graduate student at Cornell who overlaps with Harris. . “We were just lucky that no one was injured. Surely people have been traumatized.”

Duke alumni describe their early interactions with Harris as largely co-worker, but with eerie nuances that have grown over the years.

“It’s just going to be ‘um, I feel uncomfortable’ or ‘it’s scary,'” another said. “By the time I left the show, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with him.”

But Andrew Janiak, a Duke professor of philosophy and former chair of the department who served on Harris’s thesis committee, said he never showed any signs of that behavior, describing him We are “very shy, very quiet, never aggressive. I have never seen him even raise his voice.”

Janiak received the first report of harassment in late March, after Harris left Duke. The emails show that Janiak immediately contacted UCLA.

Duke and Cornell declined to comment to the AP and did not respond to a list of detailed questions emailed to them, such as whether any official reports were made about Harris while he attended the institutions. their facility and if not, what does that say about their reporting culture.


The signs were there, like breadcrumbs, scattered throughout the three schools.

The usual morning incident at Duke. A house party in Cornell, where he tries to involve an unfamiliar relative in a discussion about his mental health. Negative online reviews of his UCLA lectures. Wild laughter interrupted the class. The strange interactions with the women he would approach out of sight on campus. A constant campaign of texts and emails has led some students to cut off contact with him.

Brian Van Brunt, an expert on campus violence and mental health and former president of the National Association for Threat Assessment and Intervention, said: that kid and say, ‘oh, it’s fine. “Typically people like this don’t come out of nowhere.”

In recent years, most colleges and universities have established behavioral assessment and behavioral intervention teams in response to school shootings, to mark the behavior involved and to recognize help before the behavior escalates.

Court emails and documents show that UCLA’s behavioral intervention team has been involved, but it may not be until March 30, 2021, when Harris’ behavior really begins to escalate.

That spring, Harris began sending strange and disturbing emails to former classmates and current UCLA students. Emails to UCLA students allegedly included sexually explicit and violent content were sent to women on his research group, prompting the university to force him to “take a break from investigation.”

Bill Kisliuk, UCLA’s director of media relations, said in an email that people at the university “raised concerns” to the school’s Title IX office last year, which “worked with individuals” personnel to address concerns”. He declined to comment further, for privacy reasons. On Monday, the university announced that it was forming a task force “to conduct a comprehensive review” of its protocols to assess potential threats.

However, messages to Harris’ former Duke classmates include links to his YouTube channel, which includes a video titled “Dead White Professors (Duke University remix)” . Despite evidence that he was in North Carolina at the time, the university appeared reluctant to ban him from campus, the emails showed.

In April, his mother contacted a professor at the University of California, Irvine, saying that her son in January threatened in an email to “hunt down” and kill the woman. The professor briefly met Harris in 2013 when they were both at Duke, and he made contact when he moved to LA in 2020, sending emails and text messages that would turn aggressive and obsessive.

“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t do anything and someone got hurt,” Harris’ mother wrote.

Those messages prompted the UC system to obtain an order restricting workplace violence against him, banning him from all UC facilities. UCLA police also sought a Gun Violence Emergency Protective Order.

In November – months after he was accidentally admitted to a mental health facility and his mother later told the FBI, having been diagnosed with schizophrenia – Harris tried to buy a gun but denied for those orders.


Now, his former classmates wonder: How did Harris get hired at UCLA?

His thesis – despite the alarming dedication posted online – should have been unanimously approved by a four-man committee. Janiak said he wrote a letter of recommendation to Harris but declined to discuss it.

“Everybody wants to re-read the past and try to find out, ‘was he secretly crazy,'” the professor said, but nothing “could make me think,” said the boy, who This is in trouble.”

Janiak said students reported other complaints to him when he was department chair, but no one complained about Harris until last March.

According to Saunie Schuster, a college attorney and co-founder of the Title IX Administrators Association, the agency is conducting targeted questioning of an applicant beyond academics. their.

While schools are often unable to address unproven allegations for fear of lawsuits, Schuster said, they can do background checks that include phone interviews with classmates, superintendents and students. It is unclear whether UCLA officials conduct such background checks or interviews; The university did not respond to AP questions about whether it contacted Duke or Cornell during the hiring process.

Schuster says a background search will allow former employers to ask questions like “would you hire this individual to work directly with you?”

“Is this individual exhibiting any behavior that you have observed that concerns you?”

For Harris’s old classmates, the answer was clear: Yes.


Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin of Denver contributed. Red flags track former UCLA faculty through elite colleges before he issues threats – Orange County Register

Huynh Nguyen

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