Students, classmate detail former UCLA lecturer’s pattern of disturbing behavior
This post was updated March 4 at 3:23 p.m.
Editor’s note: This article contains mentions of disturbing topics, including pornographic content, misogyny, pedophilia, threats of interpersonal and mass violence, racism, antisemitism and anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. The Daily Bruin removed a reference to a source’s gender identity to respect the source’s privacy concerns.
Former students and a classmate of the arrested former philosophy lecturer in Monday’s mass shooting scare said he exhibited a pattern of disturbing behavior months before the week’s incident.
Matthew Harris, who was a former UCLA postdoctoral researcher, was arrested in Boulder after threatening several students and faculty, including implied threats of a mass shooting at UCLA. Harris taught at UCLA until winter 2021.
Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokesperson for the Los Angeles field office, said in an emailed statement that Harris will appear in court Thursday. She added that Harris has not been charged in the Central District of California.
On Monday, faculty and students received emails from Harris that included a link to a video titled “UCLA Philosophy (Mass Shooting)” on his new YouTube channel – which has since been removed by YouTube – and a link to an 800-page manifesto he wrote.
In his manifesto, Harris used slurs against various groups including people in the LGBTQ+ community, Asian people, immigrants, Jewish people, white people and women.
Prior to Monday’s mass shooting scare, Harris had a history of threatening physical violence.
Shortly after the start of the quarter on Jan. 6, 2021, he sent an email titled “SANDY HOOK 2 PROFESSOR SHOOTS EVERYBODY” to his mother, according to a judicial restraining order in force until 2024.
About two weeks later, Harris emailed his mother again, saying he intended to move closer to UC Irvine to plan the murder of a philosophy professor there with whom he was acquainted, according to documents filed in court obtained by the Daily Bruin. In the email, Harris also referenced his desire to kill white individuals and named a California mass shooter from several years ago.
In addition to threats against specific individuals, Harris called for mass violence against universities, including UCI. In his manifesto, Harris called for all university dorms and classrooms to be bombed.
Harris also displayed disturbing patterns of behavior in sending pornographic material he published on his YouTube channel to students.
In the past year, Harris has uploaded hundreds of videos to the internet, including at least two in which he self-identified as a pedophile. In other video titles, Harris said he hates white women, referenced school shootings and called for the genocide of white people. Several video titles included misogynist statements and racist statements related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a frame in one of the videos, what appeared to be a screenshot of Harris’ computer desktop was shown. The image showed folders with sexually explicit titles including “unsorted youngins,” “Young Stepdaughters” and “training little girls.”
“There was a lot that stood out, … in particular, the sheer amount of sexualization of girls who looked underage,” said one of Harris’ former classmates, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation.
Harris also called for mass violence, including with weapons of mass destruction, against multiple racial and ethnic groups in his videos and manifesto.
In at least one video title, Harris said that there should have been a genocide against white people. In the manifesto, Harris also called for genocide against women and white, Jewish, Asian, Mexican and African people.
Harris graduated from Duke University in 2019. He placed his doctoral dissertation, which examined the relationship between race and psychology, under embargo until September. Harris updated his dissertation twice, adding his belief that Black men are superior to other races.
Duke spokesperson Erin Kramer confirmed that Harris is a Duke alumnus but declined to confirm any other information about him.
One of Harris’ former classmates and several former students said that they had disturbing experiences with him.
Kumin Kim, a philosophy alumnus and former student of Harris’, said she and her classmates reported inappropriate emails they received from Harris to the department head, a dean and the UCLA Title IX Office in March. Despite their reports, the university did not seem to take action, Kim added.
On Monday, students began to receive pornographic content from Harris again.
Students reported receiving emails between 2:10 p.m. on Monday and 3:49 a.m. on Tuesday. Harris sent at least seven emails, primarily to students, most of whom were women.
“It was mostly women in the class that received the initial email and then the following emails,” said Luka/Isa Gidwani, a fourth-year philosophy transfer student.
Some of the email recipients also had Duke and Cornell University academic email addresses.
Harris was a visiting student at Cornell in his final year at Duke, according to his former Duke classmate, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation. Cornell did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Additionally, a former classmate of Harris’ while he was a student at Duke said Harris talked about gender roles, and in one interaction, compared women based on ethnicity.
“Asian women versus Black women versus white women,” the former classmate said. “It was kind of misogynistic, or fetishizing.”
Several students also said Harris’ behavior as the instructor of Philosophy 168: “Philosophy of Race” in winter 2021 was odd and inappropriate. They said Harris rarely seemed engaged in Zoom classes, typically keeping his camera off and often ignoring students’ questions.
During an office hour with Harris, Gidwani said Harris persistently questioned them about their gender identity.
“After that, I felt uncomfortable and never spoke again in the class,” Gidwani said. “I just completely disengaged, and I never really wanted to speak to him again, email him and stuff.”
Adriana Navarro Rodriguez, a philosophy alumnus who is Black and Mexican, said Harris asked her intrusive questions about her racial identity during office hours, including whether her Black parent is her mother or father. Rodriguez’s efforts to redirect the conversation to her upcoming midterm were met with further personal questions.
Former students in the class also mentioned that the final exam included sensitive topics that had never been taught in the course.
On the final exam, students were instructed to write five or more pages on “Mein Kampf,” the personal memoir of Adolf Hitler, which had not been introduced in class.
Harris had a video on his YouTube channel titled “why i love hitler and why he’s my inspiration.”
Another question on Harris’ final instructed students to write a page-by-page analysis of a manifesto written by a mass shooter. He had previously identified with that mass shooter in an email to his mother two months prior.
Several sources added that they felt unsupported by their universities during their interactions with Harris.
Gidwani said the Title IX Office directed him to UCLA Counseling and Psychological Services, but that he decided not to reach out because of a long wait period in a previous experience with the service.
Kim also said that her and her classmates’ reports against Harris to university officials did not result in a concrete response.
“I guess they tried to do something, but nothing really got resolved ever,” Kim said. “And they were very dismissive about it.”
UCLA spokesperson Bill Kisliuk said in an emailed statement that the Title IX Office and Civil Rights Office cannot comment on specific investigations. Sherrilyn Roush, the philosophy department chair, declined to comment.
Harris is currently in police custody, according to a campuswide announcement from UCLA.
Ashley Jellison, an FBI spokesperson for the Denver field office, declined to comment. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Contributing reports from Justin Jung, city and crime editor, and Christine Tran, national news and higher education editor.