A trail of red flags about his behavior toward women followed Matthew Harris on an academic journey that took him to three prestigious universities — Duke, Cornell and the University of California, Los Angeles, the Associated Press reports. Former graduate classmates at Duke and Cornell, where he studied before becoming a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, described him as inappropriate and creepy, with obsessive behaviors toward some women that became harassment and in one case, sexual harassment. Last week, police in Colorado arrested Harris after he allegedly emailed an 800-page document and posted videos threatening violence against dozens of people at UCLA, prompting the school to cancel in-person classes for a day. At a court appearance by Harris on Tuesday, a judge ordered him to remain in custody.
A graduate student at Duke as he completed his Ph.D. in 2019, Harris also attended Cornell for a year before UCLA hired him. He was put on “investigatory leave” last March after allegedly sending pornographic and violent content to his students. Two former Duke students said that while they did not report Harris to the university at the time, his behavior was well known within the small philosophy program and they did not feel they would have been supported if they’d come forward. Taken together, the students’ allegations at three top-tier colleges raise questions about the line between uncomfortable and actionable behavior, a university’s duty to encourage the reporting of it, and an institution’s obligation to prevent it from occurring at another school.