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 subsequently a UCLA postdoctoral fellow. His obsessive behavior of sending out excessive text messages and emails to women, which he described as harassment, and in one instance, sexual harassment, led to the resignation of several former classmates. Another claimed that Harris changed her routine at Duke over weeks, and she sent her messages such as, "I'm here. Where are you?"
A SWAT team from Colorado arrested Harris last week after Harris allegedly sent an 800-page email and posted videos inciting violence against UCLA students. The school had to cancel all in-person classes for one day. Harris allegedly sent a manifesto containing numerous racist threats. It also used the words "bomb", "kill", and "shoot" more that 12,000 times.
Harris was wearing a green jail jumpsuit and his wrists were handcuffed. Harris didn't speak Tuesday at the federal court in Denver. A second hearing is scheduled for February 23. Harris was ordered to remain in federal custody and not be released on bail by a judge.
Jennifer Beck, Assistant Federal Public Defender, stated that Judge Harris was looking for private counsel. Beck didn't immediately respond to a request for further 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.
One of his UCLA students wrote, "I have no idea why this guy is still teaching," in an anonymous class review in October 2020.
Two former Duke students spoke out on condition of anonymity to protect their safety. They said that Harris' behavior was well-known within the small philosophy program, and they didn't feel they would have received support from faculty if Harris had been reported to them.
The students' claims at three top-tier colleges raised questions about uncomfortable and actionable behavior, the university's duty of encouraging reporting and the institution's obligation not to allow it to happen at another school.
Students' accounts of years of worrying behavior raise another question: What did universities do to help Harris?
Harris was a Duke graduate student as he finished his Ph.D. in 2019. He also attended Cornell for one year before UCLA hired Harris as a postdoctoral fellow, lecturer and lecturer. This distinguished position was until Harris was placed on "investigatory Leave" last March after he allegedly sent pornographic and violent material to his students.
Adriene Takaoka, who was a Cornell philosophy graduate student, said that Harris should not have been passed to Duke. "We are just fortunate that no one has been physically injured." People have suffered psychological trauma."
Former Duke students described their first interactions with Harris as largely collaborative, with odd undertones that grew over time.
Another said, "There would be this feeling like 'um, it's uncomfortable' or that was creepy." "I wanted nothing to do whatsoever with him by the time I quit the program."
Andrew Janiak is a Duke philosophy professor who was formerly chair of the department and served as Harris' dissertation committee chairman. He said that he had never seen Harris act like this, and described him as "very shy", "very reticent, and never aggressive." He never raised his voice.
Janiak was the victim of harassment after Harris left Duke in March. Emails indicate that Janiak contacted UCLA immediately.
Duke and Cornell refused to comment to AP. They also did not respond to a series of detailed questions via email. These included whether Harris was the subject of any official reports and, if so, what that means about their culture of reporting.
They were like breadcrumbs scattered among the three schools.
Duke's morning routine incident. He tried to get a relative into a conversation about his mental health at Cornell's house party. Online reviews were negative about his UCLA lectures. His manic laughter disrupted classes. Strange interactions with women that he would approach from the sidelines on campus. Many students cut contact with him after a series of incessant texts and emails.
Brian Van Brunt, a former president of National Association for Behavioral Intervention and Threat Assessment, said that no one would ever look at the kid and say, "Oh, he is fine." "Usually, someone like this doesn't appear out of the blue."
Most colleges and universities have created threat assessment and behavioral intervention teams to respond to school shootings. This is to identify problematic behavior and provide help before it escalates.
Emails and court records show that UCLA's behavioral intervention program was involved. However, it is possible that this was not until March 30, 2021 when Harris' behavior escalated.
Harris started sending disturbing and bizarre emails to former classmates and current UCLA students in spring 1999. Harris allegedly sent pornographic and violent emails to UCLA students. This led to him being placed on "investigatory Leave" by the university.
Bill Kisliuk is UCLA's director for media relations. He stated in an email that UCLA students "brought up concerns" to Title IX last year. Title IX "worked closely with the individuals to address those concerns." He declined further comment, citing privacy. Monday's announcement by UCLA stated that it had created a task force to conduct "a comprehensive review" its protocols for assessing possible threats.
Harris' messages to former Duke classmates contained links to his YouTube channel, which included a video called "Dead White Professors (Duke University mix)". This video was despite evidence that Harris was in North Carolina at that time. Emails show that the university seemed unwilling to ban him from campus.
His mother reached out to an Irvine professor in April to inform him that her son had threatened to kill and "hunt" the woman in January via email. Harris had briefly been at Duke in 2013. He reached out to the professor when he moved to LA in 2020. He sent text messages and emails that turned aggressive and obsessive.
Harris' mother wrote, "I wouldn’t be able live with myself” if someone hurt me.
Those messages prompted UC to seek a workplace violence restraining or against him. This order barred him all UC campuses. UCLA police sought a Gun Violence Emergency Protective Order.
Harris attempted to purchase a gun in November, months after being placed involuntarily into a mental facility. His mother later revealed to the FBI that Harris was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
His former classmates are now asking: How did Harris get hired at UCLA?
A four-person committee would have unanimously approved his dissertation, despite the alarming dedication posted online. Janiak stated that he had written Harris a recommendation, but declined to discuss the matter.
"Everyone wants a re-read of the past to try to figure out, "the professor stated. But, there was nothing that would "make me think, "boy, this person is in trouble."
Janiak stated that students had reported other complaints to Janiak while he was the chair of the department. However, Harris was not mentioned until March last year.
Saunie Schuster, who advises colleges, says that it is up to the incoming institution not to ask questions beyond what they know about the applicant. She also co-founded the Association of Title IX Administrators.
Schuster stated that schools are not allowed to make unproven allegations for fear of being sued. However, they can conduct a background check, which includes interviews with students, supervisors, and classmates. The university didn't answer AP's questions about whether it conducted background checks or interviews.
Schuster stated that a background check would have allowed former employers to ask questions like "Would this person be willing to work directly for you?"
"Has the individual displayed any behavior that you have observed that could cause you concern?"
Harris' former classmates know the answer: Yes.