Ex-UCLA lecturer at elite universities spotted red flags

LOS ANGELES (AP), Matthew Harris was a trailblazer in his conduct toward women. He traveled to three of America's most prestigious universities, Cornell, Duke and finally the University of California, Los Angeles.

Ex-UCLA lecturer at elite universities spotted red flags

LOS ANGELES (AP), Matthew Harris was a trailblazer in his conduct toward women. He traveled to three of America's most prestigious universities, Cornell, Duke and finally the University of California, Los Angeles.

He was a former graduate student at Cornell and Duke, and was later a UCLA postdoctoral fellow. His obsessive behavior toward women led to harassment, and in one instance, sexual harassment.

Police in Colorado arrested Harris last week after Harris allegedly sent an 800-page email and posted videos inciting violence against UCLA students. The school was forced to cancel all in-person classes for one day.

Ex-UCLA lecturer at elite universities spotted red flags

By STEFANIE DAZIO

Today

FILE - A line of police vehicles stands in front of University Hill Elementary school, across from the University of Colorado. Matthew Harris was accused of making threats against the university and the University of California Los Angeles. He was arrested following a dispute at his Boulder apartment. Harris is a former lecturer at UCLA. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

FILE - A line of police vehicles stands in front of University Hill Elementary school, across from the University of Colorado. Matthew Harris was accused of making threats against the university and the University of California Los Angeles. He was arrested following a dispute at his Boulder apartment. Harris is a former lecturer at UCLA. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP), Matthew Harris was a trailblazer in his conduct toward women. He traveled to three of America's most prestigious universities, Cornell, Duke and finally the University of California, Los Angeles.

He was a former graduate student at Cornell and Duke, and was later a UCLA postdoctoral fellow. His obsessive behavior toward women led to harassment, and in one instance, sexual harassment.

Police in Colorado arrested Harris last week after Harris allegedly sent an 800-page email and posted videos inciting violence against UCLA students. The school was forced to cancel all in-person classes for one day.

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Harris didn't speak Tuesday at his federal court appearance in Denver. A second hearing is set for February 23rd and Harris was ordered to remain in custody by a judge. His public defender didn't immediately respond to our request for comment.

The Associated Press obtained online class reviews, interviews, and emails from former students of all three universities. They claimed that Harris was not properly treated by the schools despite his troubling conduct.

Two ex-students at Duke who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their safety said Harris' behavior was well known in the small philosophy program, and that they didn't feel supported if they came forward.

The students' claims at three top-tier colleges raise concerns about the boundary between actionable and incontinence, a university’s duty to encourage reporting it and the obligation of an institution to prevent it happening at another school.

Another question arises from the descriptions of students: What did universities do, if any, to help Harris?

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Harris was a graduate student at Duke when he finished his Ph.D. in 2019. He also attended Cornell for one year before UCLA hired Harris as a postdoctoral fellow, lecturer and fellow until he was placed on "investigatory Leave" last March following allegations that he had sent pornographic and violent material to his students.

Former Duke students described their first interactions with Harris as largely collaborative, but with strange undertones.

Andrew Janiak, a Duke philosophy Professor and former chair of that department, stated that he had never been the victim of such harassment. Janiak was the victim of harassment after Harris left Duke in March. The philosophy professor immediately contacted UCLA.

Duke and Cornell declined comment.

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They were like breadcrumbs scattered among the three schools.

Harris attempted to get a relative into a conversation about his mental health at a Cornell house party. His UCLA lectures received negative reviews. Strange interactions with women at Duke. Incessant texts and emails.

Brian Van Brunt, an expert in campus violence and mental illness, said, "No one would look at him and say, ‘Oh, he’s fine.’" "An unusually rare occurrence, someone like this doesn't just happen out of the blue."

Most colleges and universities have created threat assessment and behavioral intervention teams to respond to school shootings in recent years. Emails and court records show UCLA's behavioral interventions team was involved in school shootings, although it may not have been until March 30, according to court documents.

Harris started sending disturbing and bizarre emails in the spring. His email to UCLA students contained allegedly pornographic and violent material sent to women in his research groups. This led to his suspension.

UCLA officials stated in an email that UCLA students "brought concerns to its Title IX office" last year. The Title IX office "worked with them to address the concerns." Monday's announcement by the university said it would create a task force to "complementary review" its procedures for assessing possible threats.

Harris' mother reached out at University of California Irvine in April to tell him that her son had threatened to kill and "hunt" the woman in January. Harris had briefly been with the professor in 2013, while they were both at Duke, and he reached back in 2020.

Harris' email to his mother prompted UCLA police and the UC system to issue protective orders against Harris.

Harris attempted to purchase a gun in November, months after being placed in a mental hospital and diagnosed with schizophrenia. However, he was refused because of these orders.

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His former classmates are now asking: How did Harris get hired at UCLA?

According to Saunie Schster, a lawyer who advises colleges, the onus lies on the incoming institution for asking specific questions about applicants beyond their academic credentials.

Schuster stated that schools cannot make unproven allegations for fear of being sued. However, they can conduct a background check. It is not known if UCLA officials did this; the university didn't answer AP's questions about its hiring process.

Schuster stated that a background check would have allowed former employers to ask questions like "Has this person demonstrated any conduct you've seen that would raise concerns?"

Harris' former classmates know the answer: Yes.

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Colleen Slevin and James Anderson, both of the Associated Press in Denver, contributed to this article.

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