So much still to say about the curious case of UCLA philosophy lecturer/psychotic would-be mass killer Matthew Harris. For UD, the crucial question is – who hired him at UCLA? Simply put, how did a guy who apparently was a known problem — maybe even a danger — at his previous school – Duke – end up in front of a classroom at UCLA?
How long did UCLA keep him in the classroom?
Here’s the bit on his time at Duke.
Harris received his PhD from Duke University in 2019. It has been alleged that while there, he engaged in a some inappropriate actions with or in regard to students, and that some faculty in the Department of Philosophy at Duke were aware of issues with his behavior; it has been alleged that some Duke faculty recommended that he not be left alone with students.
So far the above can’t be confirmed; and since everyone with any connection to Matthew Harris is currently running scared (he might be released on bond or sent to a low-security mental health facility), I wouldn’t expect anyone to say anything for awhile. But let us assume this information about his behavior at Duke is true. Let us assume that his madness definitely began to manifest at Duke, that the peril of the man was something of an established fact at Duke. How can we account for UCLA hiring, and for some time keeping, him?
Here are a few thoughts.
1.) Just as GW’s Jessica Krug had institutionally powerful enablers, so perhaps Harris had influential cheerleaders at Duke and/or UCLA. Sometimes it only takes one pivotal/assertive/aggressive advocate to tamp down misgivings other colleagues might have.
2.) Harris’s aggressivity, sense of grievance, and general strangeness might have been filed under “wounds of race” – just as Jessica Krug’s similar emotional profile — when people were under the impression she was black — was perhaps interpreted/mainstreamed in this way.
3.) Harris had great credentials – Duke, a respected thesis director, fellowships, prizes. I’m assuming he had strong recommendations. Nothing on paper argued against him, and it looks as though no one at Duke – formally or informally – shared anything worrisome. Or did they? Again, a strong enough advocate might find a way to neutralize worrisome information. (Interestingly, Duke was both Krug’s publisher and Harris’s graduate institution.)
4.) Once in the classroom at UCLA, Harris benefited from the praiseworthy tendency of universities to give professors enormous freedom in what and how they teach. But as a novice at the trade, Harris should have encountered more oversight than he apparently received. To make matters worse, the dissolution of disciplinary boundaries in the humanities means the absence of anything like an agreed-upon canon of readings to assign in any particular class. “[A] final exam … included an essay question about the hate-filled manifesto of Christopher Dorner, a former LAPD officer whose 2013 shooting rampage killed four people and wounded three others. Students were asked to consider the ‘oppression, disrespect and loss of dignity’ suffered by the homicidal ex-cop.”
Exactly the sort of assigned reading you’d expect in an undergraduate philosophy course. Before Hegel and Arendt, Christopher Dorner.