Sunday, July 26, 2020

UC Santa Barbara turns back a wave of Title IX complaints against archaeologist Danielle Kurin on jurisdictional grounds

Last month, in an update to a report on this blog about misconduct allegations against University of California, Santa Barbara, archaeologist Danielle Kurin, I wrote about a Title IX complaint that had been filed by an alleged victim of sexual assault. The assault, at the hands of Kurin's then husband, Enmanuel Gomez Choque, took place at a field school in Peru that Kurin directed in 2018. The survivor of the assault, whom I identified as Student No. 3 to protect her identity, told me that her complaint had been rejected on the grounds that the incident took place in Peru and was not a UCSB activity.

Traditionally, under Title IX, faculty members have been held responsible for their behavior even when outside the United States. However, under the Trump administration and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, new regulations designed to significantly weaken Title IX protections are due to go into effect on August 14. A number of organizations have filed suit in federal court to block some or all of these regulatory changes, and so it is possible that UCSB's Title IX office has jumped the gun and put them into effect before it is actually necessary to do so.

In my June 10 update on this, Student No. 3, who has been traumatized by her experiences to the extent that she no longer wants to participate in archaeological field schools, commented on the university's handling of her complaint:

"I got the news about Title IX last Friday. I have taken a couple of weeks to digest. Essentially, because the incident occurred in a program (through IFR) that was not sanctioned or ran by USCB, it is out of their jurisdiction to take any action. I pressed and mentioned that surely two filings against Kurin is enough to at least reevaluate her as a professor, but the woman I spoke to simply repeated the information about jurisdiction."

[Student No. 3 is referring to other Title IX complaints that were filed around the time that hers was]

Student No. 3 further commented:

"I have...expressed my utmost concern about Kurin continuing to use her position to lure unsuspecting students to Peru with her and her husband...Kurin and Emanuel are predators who use the trust that students put in them as professionals against them (the students)."

In the end, a number of complaints against Kurin were filed with the Title IX office this past spring; as I reported earlier, in 2016 the Title IX office found that Kurin had retaliated against students who filed complaints about Gomez's harassment of them during a field school in Peru in 2015 (which was also confirmed in that earlier investigation.) So one might say that this is the second wave of Title IX complaints that have been filed against Kurin.

Everyone who filed complaints in this most recent wave, as far as I know, received the same email from Courtney Brunasso of the Title IX office. I have written to Ms. Brunasso to ask for clarification about the basis on which this jurisdictional issue precluded processing the complaints, and whether indeed the office had pre-emptively applied regulations that are not currently in effect, might not go into effect until August, and/or might be delayed or cancelled if the current litigation is successful. I will let readers know how she responds.

Ms. Brunasso's email to Title IX complainants:

"Thank you for your report to the Title IX Office involving Danielle Kurin.  Based on the information presented, we connected with the identified Complainant(s) with known contact information and completed our assessment based on the available information. Due to limitations in jurisdiction, the Title IX Office does not have the authority to further respond, and this matter is now closed. 

The University policy encourages all of its community members to promptly report to the Title IX Office any conduct that may constitute sexual harassment/sexual violence.  Through your actions, you dutifully complied with the procedures outlined by this policy and we appreciate your immediate report of this issue.  Please don't hesitate to contact our office if you have further questions or concerns.

All the best,

Courtney Brunasso
Case Resolution Officer
Title IX & Sexual Harassment Policy Compliance Office
3211 Phelps Hall 
University of California Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-2065
(805) 893-5286"

Addendum: The Institute for Field Research, which sponsored Kurin's 2018 field school, found her to have engaged in misconduct in regards to the sexual assault of Student No. 3. In a defamation suit Kurin has filed against me for my truthful reporting on her history and behavior, Kurin claims that IFR only found against Gomez and another Peruvian, and that it had ended its association with her "without prejudice." That is false, as is clear not only from the IFR's former executive director's statement to the field school students (see below, I have published this image before), but also according to IFR officials in a "Town Hall" they held recently with UCLA graduate students.

While the IFR was careful about making any public statements about severing its relationship with Kurin, its representatives told students that at least one reason she was found to have committed misconduct was that she allowed a drunken Gomez into the house where the students were living even though the sexual assault victim was sheltering and hiding there. 

"It was her duty to prevent him access to us and she failed to do so," as one of the students put it.

As I reported earlier, she then tried to mollify the students during a meeting the next day, and even suggested (there are recordings) that it was the student's own fault for drinking.

Boytner's message to the 2018 field school students


Lana S. Martin, PhD said...

Thanks for drawing attention to the fact that UCSB is voluntarily and prematurely invoking Trump policy in order to avoid investigating sexual misconduct. I would clutch my pearls over how inhumane the UC system is or has become, but their regents appointed Janet Napolitano to be president, who then deported grad students striking for a livable wage..........................

Anonymous said...

Curious if institutions are subject ot Title IX even if they are receiving federal funds indirectly. If so, I'm sure the IFR has received plenty of funding from students, faculty and even projects that may have received NSF grants. Does that mean that they are required to have at Title IX office? Are employees and field school directors subject to Title IX rules?

Anonymous said...

¡Caray! So after all is said (by the students) and done (to the students), there's a chance they'll grant her tenure over some bullshit technicality? If UCSB won't do the right thing, it is up to any concerned individual to raise the alarm and spread the word about what has happened, and what could happen.

Anonymous said...

Excellent questions posed above by Anonymous on July 26, 2020 at 10:57 PM. In the June 11 Townhall meeting, Willeke Wendrich stated the following:

“IFR is a non-profit 501(c)(3), and it does not operate under Title IX obligations. We do have a very strict policy, and actually we are also not bound by direct relations that Title IX office at the UC system is bound by... If we find, however, that there is a Title IX complaint of a student, for student, against someone in a field school situation, we always report that to the Title IX office of the student’s [university or college] in question.”
“IFR is actually mo… at least as strict as UCLA in its anti-harassment and discrimination policy. And there is a very strong policy in place, where the Title IX offices will be involved for students who are involved in situations like that.”

Wendrich’s explanation, immediately following the clarification from UCLA’s Title IX representative that starting August 14 they will no longer have jurisdiction over cases that happen outside the US, exposes an ugly truth that students in future IFR field schools will be even more vulnerable to sexual harassment and assault. How does the IFR plans to avoid cases like that of the above-cited student who was attacked in Kurin’s 2018 field school and is now being denied justice from UCSB, to repeat again? It is clear that she and other students were not satisfied with the investigation conducted by the IFR back in 2018 if they are turning to Title IX offices and journalists. Plenty of reasons to suspect that this was a coverup, considering that Kurin was at the time an IFR board member and was closely affiliated with IFR Director Ran Boytner, who himself was exposed with sexual misconduct at UCLA.

Anonymous said...

Wendrich herself praised the need for Title IX in her May 6 Director’s Message to the Cotsen community, saying that these “were designed to protect students from those in positions that are more powerful, to protect women and men from those who are more likely to be believed”. But in the town-hall she was explaining that the IFR doesn’t need to comply with those because they are non-profit. Hypocrisy at its finest.

Anonymous said...

I still find it absurd that Ran Boytner would claim that “Our investigation was conducted promptly… as is our practice.” Most if not all the students who witnessed the July 13-14 events were Zoom-interviewed about TWO MONTHS AFTER. People can forget a lot in two months and this is not how you conduct a serious investigation. And it took them another long month after the interviews to send that email. If this is the “practice” in all their investigations, then it’s nothing to be proud of. Still wondering what took them so damn long. Were they more concerned about covering their liable asses from potential lawsuits rather than helping the students who were harmed?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the IFR's "investigation". I have some questions that don't seem to be addressed in your blog.
1. Is there are chronology of the IFR's investigation into the 2018 Peru field school. The email from Boytner says the incident occurred on the night of July 13-14. The email itself is dated October 17th, 2018. That's three months which is not a significant amount of time but I'd like to know when the allegations were brought to the IFR's attention, when they interviewed the students and other parties involved.
2. Who were interviewed in this investigation. I'm obviously not looking for names but number of students attending the program vs. number of students interviewed. Were Gomez and Kurin interviewed? I'd like to know the scope of this investigation.
3. THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION: Who conducted this investigation. Were the people involved in the investigation in any way qualified to conduct an investigation and also trained in dealing with victims of alleged trauma/sexual assault? Were the people conducting the investigation outside entities who could be unbiased or were they affiliated with the IFR such as the ED and Board members and PIs running other field schools.

Anonymous said...

Replying to Anonymous above:
The chronology and scope of the IFR investigation was never shared with the staff or students, but this is what was collectively observed and reported. The allegations were brought to the IFR attention on July 14, so one day before the field school ended. Some of the teaching assistants reported in the following days. In addition to the harassment complaints, several participants complained about the fact that there were only 6 days of excavation in this field school and not followed what was promised on the syllabus. In response, Ran Boytner refused to issue a reimbursement and only said that the investigation in progress. Nevertheless students were only interviewed two months after the events around mid-September and some of the staff only at the end of that month. There was no explanation why the long wait and it was challenging to remember all the details. The people who conducted the interviews were Willeke Wendrich, Julie Stein, and Fred Limp (as far as I know only one of those interviewed each participant). Ran Boytner also participated in those interviews. Although Jason De Leon said he was closely involved in the investigation, no one can remember being interviewed by him. As someone else commented on this blog, all of those people are affiliated with the IFR board and there is no indication that they are trained or qualified to conduct such an investigation. It is obvious that they all have a strong motivation to protect the IFR.

Michael Balter said...

This comment from Anonymous was inadvertently deleted. I am posting it here:

Wow, Anonymous above says: "Although Jason De Leon said he was closely involved in the investigation, no one can remember being interviewed by him."

That's a pretty wild thing to lie about or exaggerate. When Prof. De Leon said he was "closely involved in the investigation", did he mean actually no involvement or something along the lines of "glanced at an email summary from fellow archaeologists' whose fieldwork has directly been underwritten by IFR Global"?

Either is negligent.

Anonymous said...

I agree, and I bet there’s still much more the IFR doesn’t tell us about how that investigation was conducted and what were the conclusions regarding Kurin’s culpability in ensuring the safety of the field school students. This information can potentially help the case of the victim who recently wrote to chancellor Yang, but it may also help Balter in the legal suit against him so they are just keeping it under wraps. Remember what Willeke Wendrich said in the town hall meeting about issuing a formal statement to the public? “We will need to communicate something, even though I’m very hesitant to react to anything that comes out of the Balter blog.”
That was 51 days ago. Perhaps any day now…

Michael Balter said...

In response to the last comment: I think it's clear that everyone who was involved in IFR's investigation of the sexual assaults and other misconduct that occurred during Kurin's 2018 field school in Peru is a potential witness in the defamation suit, since Kurin is claiming that I defamed her when I reported she had committed misconduct. Her statements about those events in the defamation complaint are false. I have informed all of the IFR people that they are likely to be deposed in the case and possibly testify at trial, and that they are forbidden from destroying evidence. For the sake of the truth, let them stop hiding what really happened.