|Willeke Wendrich, director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology
In my previous post, I reported that University of Santa Barbara, California archaeologist Danielle Kurin had abruptly resigned her tenured position in the UCSB anthropology department in early January--an action that is being widely celebrated in the department and in the anthropology and archaeology communities Kurin was supposedly part of. That's because Kurin's abuses of students over many years, which included retaliation, bullying, and exploitation of young researchers for her own benefit, were very well known, and at the same time enabled by so many individuals and institutions.
In that earlier post, I argued that it was time to begin calling Kurin's enablers to account, and I went into some detail about who the major enablers were and what they had done. As many readers here will know, in June 2020 Kurin sued me for $18 million in defamation damages. The case dragged on for 13 painful months before it was settled, and then unsettled, as it were, after Kurin violated the agreement we had come to.
During the discovery phase of the litigation, my attorneys and I received roughly 4000 pages of documents concerning Kurin from UC Santa Barbara and the Los Angeles-based Institute for Field Research, on whose academic board Kurin sat from 2016-2018 and which sponsored some of her field schools in Peru. About half of those pages were from UCSB and half from IFR. However, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, both institutions insisted that the documents be put under a court protective order, such that they could not be published and could only be used in the lawsuit. To avoid months of litigation over this unjustified attempt to hide documents that were clearly in the public interest from being revealed, my attorneys and I agreed, pending motions to the federal judge in the case to release them.
While I am obviously not allowed to reveal the contents of the documents, I can say that they backed up my reporting 100%, and that there was absolutely no privacy or other justifications for their being kept secret. Nevertheless, when the case settled and the judge dismissed it with prejudice, the court order required that the documents be destroyed and deleted.
However, the protective orders we signed with UCSB and IFR included the following language:
"Nothing herein shall affect or restrict the rights of any party with respect to its own documents or to information obtained or developed independently of materials afforded confidential treatment pursuant to this Order."
Of course, before the lawsuit was filed and before these protective orders were signed, I had independently developed many sources and obtained access to many documents concerning how UCSB and IFR handled the Danielle Kurin matters, and I continued to do during the lawsuit--and I continued to do so after the lawsuit was dismissed. So while I obviously cannot "forget" what I read in the protected discovery documents, I am also free to report on information I have developed on my own. Over the past months, I have done just that; and fortunately, after everything that has happened, new sources, at both IFR and UCSB, have been willing to talk to me and to provide me with documents independently of the discovery materials. At the same time, I have filed a series of California Public Records Act requests for documents held by UCSB and UCLA, and those are now starting to be produced, with minimal redactions.
Because of the sensitivity of the sourcing for what follows, and the need to protect individuals who fear either retaliation or chastisement from their peers, I am going to be careful how I attribute the information I will lay out below. However, everything I will say is confirmed by individuals who were present for the events discussed, and by documents, including IFR board meeting minutes, emails, and other material.
While I will be quoting out of the documents, I will not be posting them here. For reasons I will not discuss, doing that could possibly identify who gave them to me, or at least provide clues to those who might want to retaliate against those sources. All reporters should be mindful of how careless handling of documents helped send NSA whistleblower Reality Winner to jail, a mistake The Intercept has yet to take full responsibility for.
What the documents and sources demonstrate is that Willeke Wendrich, director of UCLA's Costen Institute of Archaeology and chair of the IFR governing board, lied to me, some of her colleagues, UCLA students, and others about what she and the IFR board knew about Danielle Kurin's Title IX proceeding at UCSB in 2016. In fact she and the IFR governing and academic boards knew no later than October 2016 that Kurin had been subject to a Title IX and had been put on administrative leave.
Why did Wendrich and others lie about it? There may be multiple reasons, but fear of litigation by victims and survivors of Kurin's retaliation and her husband's sexual harassment was clearly one of them. I will have more to say about that as I report on this new investigation.
A chronology of coverups and lies.
From a moral point of view, it matters not just that someone has lied, but who they lied to. The first batch of documents I received from UCLA consists of 41 pages of emails to and from Richard Lesure in May and June of 2020, shortly after I first reported about a sexual assault and other incidents at Kurin's 2018 IFR-sponsored field school in Peru. Lesure is an archaeologist at the Cotsen, and has also served as an advisor to IFR. Upon reading this reporting, on May 29, 2020, graduate students at the Cotsen Institute wrote a letter to Wendrich and other faculty expressing concerns about the allegations and asking for answers to a number of questions. (I earlier quoted a short section of this letter; the entire text is reproduced in the Lesure emails.)
In response, Lesure, Wendrich, and other Cotsen faculty convened a "Town Hall" meeting with the students on June 11, 2020, which included various UCLA officials including a dean and the head of the Title IX office. I reported in detail on this Town Hall, based on sources at the meeting and a recording that was made of it, shortly afterwards. At the time of my original report, Wendrich insisted that neither she nor the IFR board knew about Kurin's Title IX back in 2016, and accused me of "unethical" reporting for saying that they did. Wendrich and others repeated these falsehoods at the Town Hall. And in the Lesure emails, we read the following, where Wendrich clearly lies to her own colleagues:
From: Wendrich, Willeke [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, June 2, 2020 11:13 AM
To: Richard Lesure <email@example.com>
Cc: Jason De Leon Glenn Wharton <firstname.lastname@example.org>;
Greg Schachner <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Update for/consultation with Cotsen Institute Advisory Committee
I’m afraid we cannot put on the agenda: “faculty affiliated with the IFR invited to respond to
allegations in Michael Balter’s blog”. The term “respond to allegations” is problematic, because
those allegations are not against UCLA faculty affiliated with IFR. I am willing to discuss why his blog
is misleading and what Balter’s methods are. That would be an important learning point for the
students. The only “allegation” that concerns me directly is that I supposedly lied when I told Balter
that I or the IFR board did not know that Kurin was on administrative leave because of Title IX
allegations. I did not know and I did not lie. There is really not much more to say about that. Perhaps
reframe as “discussion of Michael Balter’s blog and methods”
This false statement was consistent with what Wendrich told me while I was reporting on these events in 2020:
Now let's look at the facts. For the benefit of easy comprehension, and for those who are new to this story, I will take a chronological approach.
2014-2016: As I reported on this blog in 2020, after the defamation suit was filed, the UCSB administration received reports of abuse and bullying of students by Kurin beginning in 2014, the first year of her tenure track position. Two of these stories can be found here and here. And beginning in September 2015, the UCSB Title IX office received complaints from students who said they had been sexually harassed by Kurin's partner and later husband, Enmanuel Gomez Choque. In early 2016, the university opened a formal Title IX investigation and put Kurin on administrative leave pending its outcome. The UCSB administration, however, kept these proceedings secret from the anthropology faculty, except for the department chairs, who were told not to tell anyone what they knew.
June 14, 2016: The Title IX office issued its report, which concluded that, based on a preponderance of the evidence, Gomez had engaged in sexual harassment and Kurin had retaliated against students who reported it. At that time, Kurin had proposed to IFR that they sponsor field schools in Peru that she was holding again that year, and IFR had agreed to do so. There is no evidence that Kurin ever told IFR that she was under active investigation for misconduct, and there is no evidence that IFR knew before this time.
June 16, 2016: While IFR was the sponsor of the scheduled field schools in Peru, which were to begin in July, formal academic credit was given through UCLA Extension. Sometime between June 14 and June 16, according to sources, the dean of academic affairs for UCLA Extension (and later IFR board member) Kevin Vaughn, himself an anthropologist, was told of the Title IX findings. On June 16, Vaughn and then IFR executive director Ran Boytner wrote to the students who had signed up for Kurin's field schools and told them that they were cancelled due to "health and safety reasons."
According to sources, Vaughn was aware at that time of the Title IX findings against Kurin and Gomez. Exactly what he told Boytner at that time is not clear. But at some point between then and October 2016, Boytner did become aware that Kurin had been subjected to a Title IX, and reported that to the IFR board at a joint meeting of its governing and academic boards. The following is based on multiple sources who were present at that meeting, and other documents including minutes of the meeting. Given the obvious sensitivity of the sourcing, I will have to be careful about how I describe this so as not to compromise both the sources who were there and those who provided me with these documents, independent of the discovery in the defamation case. But it is gratifying that some individuals who might have been inclined to protect IFR's institutional interests earlier no longer see that as the highest priority, given the evidence of lying by Wendrich and the subsequent events concerning Danielle Kurin. Importantly for the purposes of accurate reporting, the eyewitness accounts correlate exactly with what was recorded in the meeting minutes.
October 7 and 8, 2016: Joint meeting of IFR's governing and academic boards.
This meeting took place at the IFR's offices in Los Angeles. Among those attending:
Governing board members: Willeke Wendrich (UCLA), Lynn Swartz Dodd (USC), Fred Limp (U of Arkansas), Anthony Graesch (Connecticut College), Yuval Bar-Zemer (industrial developer.)
Academic board members: Danielle Kurin (UCSB), Charles Stanish (former Cotsen director), Tim Williams (University College London), Barra O'Donnabhain (University College Cork), Benjamin Porter (UC Berkeley), Alex Fisch (Mayor of Culver City, CA.)
Also present were IFR executive-director Ran Boytner, some IFR staff members, and the institute's legal counsel, John Given, as well as David Goldman, the program director for humanities and social sciences at UCLA Extension.
On the second day of the meeting, October 8, Boytner led a session called "The State of the IFR." Among the topics were "programs with issues," of which two were identified at the meeting: Kurin's field school at the site of Sondor in Peru, and a sexual assault case at the IFR's field school at Prane Siddi, Italy.
Few details were given at the meeting about what happened at Prane Siddi, but it does appear from the minutes of the meeting that IFR was taking it seriously and working with the director, Emily Holt, to insure that students would be safe the following year.
On the other hand, the discussion of Kurin's Title IX was extensive. Boytner told those gathered that Kurin's July field school had been cancelled due to a Title IX investigation, and that UCLA Extension had paid for the "consequences" of that last-minute action (according to sources, reimbursing the students for fees, flights, and other expenses.) Boytner, who according to those present was very supportive of Kurin, told the gathering, according to the minutes, "allegation is not proven, unknown what the allegation is."
But Kurin, who was present at the meeting and acknowledged the Title IX, lied to the board members about the charges and also about the status of the investigation. She told colleagues that the investigation was ongoing, that UCSB had not really told her what the charges were, and--as she would repeat far and wide over the years, up to the present--that the allegations had been brought by "racist gringas" who were bigoted against Gomez (by this time Kurin and Gomez had married at a ceremony in Santa Barbara; they were also married in the Peruvian church the previous year, September 2015.)
Kurin also explicitly told everyone that she was on administrative leave (contra Wendrich statements above.)
Of course, Kurin knew full well what the charges and the findings were, because she received the Title IX report right after it was finalized on June 14, 2016. Nevertheless, she offered to resign. This brought about a motion, which, according to the minutes of the meeting, was proposed by Fred Limp and seconded by Charles Stanish, declining Kurin's offer of resignation and keeping her on the academic board. The motion carried unanimously.
The meeting also addressed the strong opinion of Boytner and Wendrich that, pending the outcome of the Title IX investigation that was actually completed, Kurin be allowed to offer her field school in 2017. However, Kevin Vaughn (who was not present at the meeting) had earlier communicated to the IFR board that UCLA Extension would probably not allow academic credit for it in subsequent years, and David Goldman of UCLA Extension, who was present, was apparently unable to clarify the situation. At that point Wendrich insisted that "IFR should go forth with the Field School with or without credits from UCLA Extension," according to the minutes. (In fact, that is exactly what happened; in 2018, the field school was held under IFR sponsorship with academic credit from Connecticut College.)
The minutes also reflect concerns that without Kurin's field school, IFR was in a worse financial position. The minutes quote developer Yuval Bar-Zemer as saying, "marketing-wise it was excellent, filled completely, super popular; what measures can we add to the program to protect us legally?"
Of course, as we now know, the Title IX was only the first step in Kurin's disciplinary proceedings, which went on until early 2018. At that time, as part of a settlement with UCSB, she signed a "Letter of Censure" which found her culpable of multiple counts of misconduct; the settlement allowed her to come back to work after a full three years of administrative leave was completed, provided that she did not offend again and that she complete a lengthy course of psychotherapy. (The Letter of Censure is now a public document; my other statements are based on sources familiar with the settlement terms.)
According to sources present at this meeting, the board members showed an odd lack of curiosity about what Kurin had actually been charged with, and seemed to accept her explanations at face value--even though then, as now, a Title IX most often involves sexual harassment or misconduct of some kind. There was also no apparent discussion of Kurin's partner Gomez, although Boytner and some board members were likely to be aware that he was playing a major role in the field school.
As an example of how much benefit of the doubt Kurin was given, even though UCLA Extension had abruptly cancelled the 2016 field school for "health and safety reasons," no one at the meeting reportedly expressed concern for student safety--the main concerns discussed were financial and legal. Even more: a motion to appoint Kurin to the IFR Merit Based Scholarship Committee (proposed by Wendrich) passed unanimously.
October 20-21, 2017: Joint meeting of the IFR governing and academic boards.
By the time of this meeting, Kurin had held her summer field school in Peru, albeit without academic credit for the students attending. As I have reported earlier, there were again incidents of sexual harassment by Gomez, and Kurin repeatedly offered marijuana to the students in an apparent effort to placate them, thus putting them in potential serious danger with Peruvian police. However there were no formal complaints made, although the students did share their experiences with others.
A full year had now gone by since the last joint board meeting. Yet the minutes of the 2017 meeting do not reflect any updates, or even discussion, of Kurin's Title IX proceedings. Perhaps during this time, Wendrich and some other board members were privately briefed on what that case was really about. Or, just as likely according to the evidence, they did not really care. At the academic board portion of this meeting, Kurin was appointed to three more committees: The Opportunity Scholarship Review Committee (seconded by Wendrich); the Merit Based Scholarship Review Committee (seconded by Wendrich); and the Post Board Meeting Academic Review Committee (seconded by Wendrich.)
We also read Motion 11 at the meeting: "Having conducted due diligence of the Peru-Sondor project, we--the IFR Academic Board--express our desire to continue working with Dr. Danielle Kurin as the director of IFR field school(s). Proposed by Wendrich, motion adopted.
March 2018: Kurin signs the settlement with UCSB, mentioned above, in which she agrees to accept responsibility for her misconduct in a "Letter of Censure" which is put in her personnel file for three years.
April 17, 2018: IFR executive-director Ran Boytner writes an email to the IFR boards and IFR staff to announce that Kurin has come to an agreement with UCSB. Botyner states in part:
"I meet [sic] with Danielle Kurin at the [Society for American Archaeology meeting] and am delighted to share with you that the dispute with UCSB is now resolved. Danielle is a functioning officially active Assistant Professor there. How and why is confidential but Danielle shared with me that she will begin teaching classes again at UCSB on [sic] April 2019." (Kurin actually returned to work that fall.)
Boytner adds: "As we all know, the past two years were a trying period for Danielle," and goes on to list all the things she did over that time instead of sitting "idle."
At least one member of the board, Jason De Leon of UCLA, responded to Boytner's email, saying, "excellent news!" I have not yet talked about De Leon in this post, but in my report on the Cotsen Town Hall I pointed out that he was likely to have been aware of the Title IX from the beginning, and also that he lied about his knowledge--at the same time he was publicly attacking me for supposed false and unethical reporting.
What can we conclude so far? That the IFR governing and academic boards knew that Kurin was subject to a Title IX, knew that she was still on administrative leave, and nevertheless asked very few questions about it all (at least that they shared with their colleagues.) Did Wendrich and Boytner know what the actual charges were, based on their relationship with Kevin Vaughn and other colleagues who did know? Did they discuss any of this with UCSB officials, in an attempt to protect students in their field schools?
What we can conclude, beyond any doubt, is that they lied about what they knew. And, that their actions allowed the following to happen:
July 2018: A student is allegedly sexually assaulted by Gomez, Kurin's then husband, at her IFR sponsored field school. After threatening retaliation against students if they reported it, Kurin sees the writing on the wall and reports it herself to Boytner. After a very slow start, IFR begins an investigation which lasts until that October. It includes interviews with the sexual assault victim and other witnesses.
October 2018: IFR's investigations concludes that there was misconduct at the 2018 field school. Kurin is banned from holding field schools and she is removed from the IFR academic board.
|Boytner's message to 2018 field school students
Motions are proposed and adopted to send out letters about the investigation's findings to certain parties (not named.) Actions are proposed to improve IFR's handling of sexual harassment issues, including sexual harassment training for all field school directors and discussion of sexual harassment guidelines with students at the beginning of each school.
Last item on the agenda: Send a thank you letter to Danielle Kurin.
September 2018: [Note slight switch in chronology]
According to multiple sources, Kevin Vaughn began discussing privately with numerous colleagues what had happened at Kurin's 2018 field school. Some faculty, considering themselves mandatory reporters, informed the UCSB Title IX office. That office reportedly takes no action; likewise, in 2020, UCSB's Title IX office receives numerous complaints from students and faculty, again declines to take any action.
There is no evidence whatsoever that Wendrich or any IFR board member or official informed UCSB of its findings and Kurin's removal from all activities with the organization. Did they violate their own responsibilities as mandatory reporters?
June 2020: Kurin sues me for defamation. July 2021: Case is settled and dismissed.
Jan/Feb 2021: UCSB anthropology department recommends against her receiving tenure.
August 2021: UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang overrules department decision, awards Kurin tenure.
January 2022: Kurin abruptly resigns, claiming that she was searching for a more "meaningful" job and that it had nothing to do with the latest revelations concerning her apparent misconduct in the Jack Cantin case.
Conclusions: Danielle Kurin's misconduct, as I have argued repeatedly and most recently in as much detail as I could, could not have taken place--nor could should have hurt the numerous students she victimized over the years--without being enabled by those who had the power to stop her. I can only hope that this latest report will help bringing those enablers to account.
Kurin may be gone from UCSB, but this story is far from over. I will continue to report as always.
Note: I have invited Wendrich and De Leon to respond to or comment on this report and I will publish what they say, if anything, in full.