California Public Records Act documents provide new insights into the departure of Danielle Kurin from UC Santa Barbara


Archaeologist Danielle Kurin is gone but not entirely forgotten in the UCSB anthropology building

Last January, most members of the University of California, Santa Barbara anthropology department breathed a deep sigh of relief when one of their colleagues, archaeologist Danielle Kurin, abruptly resigned the tenured position she had fought years to get. Kurin's departure seemed an appropriate, if long delayed, resolution of her years of well-established abuses and enabling of abuse, leading to a Title IX, censure by the university, three years of administrative leave, ejection from a leading archaeological organization, and other dramas. (For a guide to my reporting on all these matters, please see here.)

In the midst of all these events, Kurin filed an $18 million defamation suit against me in federal court. Before the case was settled (and later unsettled after she violated our agreement), my attorneys and I received thousands of pages in discovery, which not only fully backed up my reporting but provided even new details of her misconduct. Unfortunately, to avoid months of litigation, we had to agree to a court "protective order" to get most of these documents in a timely manner; the court order prevents me from revealing what was in them.

However, many of the documents, at least those that involve UCSB directly, are accessible via the California Public Records Act. I began requesting selective records soon after the case was over. The university has taken months to process them, but is finally releasing them to me in batches. This post is an update on two issues important to understanding why Kurin is no longer at UCSB: Her 2018 settlement with the university after the Title IX proceedings, which included the three year administrative leave; and indications that the university had investigated Kurin for possible misconduct during her anthropological work for the mother of a missing teenager, victim of the 2018 Montecito mudslide (Montecito is a community just next to Santa Barbara.)

As I write, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's office has not yet wrapped up its investigation of Kurin's claim that she had found the remains of Jack Cantin, whose mother has never given up the search for her missing son. According to Raquel Zick, spokesperson for the Sheriff, this is now due mostly to continuing negotiations in a lawsuit that Jack's mother, Kim Cantin, filed against the county and the sheriff because it would not give her a death certificate for the bones that Kurin and her student team had supposedly found.

This means that the Sheriff and coroner have probably concluded their attempts to identify the human remains, although we are awaiting official word about that. The new documents shed some light on the role of both Kurin and the university in this and other matters, and I will go through them in what follows.

Kurin's 2018 settlement with UCSB: Three strikes and you're out.

In 2016, after Danielle Kurin was found in a Title IX proceeding to have retaliated against students who reported her partner (and later husband) for acts of sexual harassment at her archaeological field sites in Peru, she sued the University of California on the grounds that they had denied her a promotion despite the disciplinary action. The case dragged on for nearly two years. But in March 2018, the university settled all claims with Kurin. The settlement was never made public, nor even the details of the Title IX, even to members of Kurin's department. In February 2020, based also on a public records release, I first reported on the Title IX; now, for the first time, I can publish the settlement, which is accessible here.

What follows is brief commentary on some of its provisions. Note that only one section is partly redacted, which I will explain.

Sections 1-4: These are fairly standard provisions in a settlement of this kind, and spell out when Kurin can return to full compensation as an assistant professor

Section 5:      Kurin is banned from the UCSB campus for the three years of her leave, except for supervised removal of materials from her office and lab. Given her confirmed retaliation against students, this provision was presumably to protect them from possible abuse at her hands.

Section 6:       Kurin's "tenure clock" is suspended until she returns to work at UCSB. Note that while the university could have fired Kurin--and in such similar, egregious circumstances, many institutions have done just that--the UCSB administration (and probably the University of California central administration) decided to give her another chance, for reasons they have never explained to anyone.

Section 7:       This section refers to the Letter of Censure put into Kurin's personnel file for the three years she was on leave. I earlier published this letter, as part of the settlement agreement in the Kurin v. Balter lawsuit, but I am linking here to the better quality version I received via the California Public Records Act. The Letter of Censure, which Kurin and her attorney attempted to hide from me and my attorneys during the lawsuit, details the charges the university confirmed against her. It demonstrates clearly that she lied to the court and to her colleagues about the nature of the discipline against her and the reasons for it.

Section 8:         This section forbids Kurin from knowingly working with any UCSB students during her leave. I have no evidence that she did so. However, as I reported earlier, the Institute for Field Research allowed Kurin to bring students from other institutions down to field schools in Peru in 2017 and 2018 despite its knowledge that she had been subject to a Title IX; that led to a sexual assault against a student in 2018 at the hands of Kurin's then husband.

Section 9:          This is the only section which includes redactions, and only partially. The unredacted part indicates that before Kurin can return to work, a psychotherapist must certify that she is fit to return to do so. I have reported earlier, based on independent sources, that the settlement required Kurin to undergo an extended period of psychotherapy. The redactions were presumably for privacy reasons. However, those who know Kurin say that she has had mental health issues for years, and that her family has been greatly concerned with that. This could generate some sympathy for Kurin, but condemnation of those who allowed her to continue to abuse students in various ways and enabled her legal attacks on those who told the truth about her.

Sections 11-31:  These sections are again pretty standard legalese typical of such settlements and not particular to Kurin's situation.

Section 32:          In terms of what happened later, this is probably the most important provision of the agreement. It outlines what could happen to Kurin if she commits similar misconduct again. In brief, she would be subject to dismissal with no right of appeal.

Of course, this provision is subject to interpretation, and Kurin could have argued that other kinds of misconduct--such as that which has been alleged against her by her own department concerning the Jack Cantin matter--would not lead to automatic dismissal. But it seems likely that her sudden resignation was due to her knowledge that she might be charged with misconduct by UCSB, or indeed had been at the time she departed.

Kurin's department reported serious concerns about her handling of the Jack Cantin case to the UCSB administration.

I have reported earlier that, according to sources at UCSB, the administration had launched an investigation of Kurin's alleged mishandling of the Jack Cantin remains, including clear violations of the California Health and Safety Code, which required her to immediately report any new human remains to the Sheriff's office and not to excavate them in any way.

The new records provide some new details of how that investigation came about.

On July 22, 2021, a week after the federal judge dismissed Kurin's lawsuit against me, she and Kim Cantin notified the local Santa Barbara media that Kurin's team had found, and identified with "90% certainty," the remains of Jack Cantin. The news clearly took the Sheriff's department by surprise, which apparently found out about it on that evening's TV news.

I did not write about this until October of last year, because during the brief time it was in effect, the settlement between me and Kurin did not allow me to write about her. But according to the records, members of Kurin's department were concerned much earlier. In a September 9 email, Sarah McClure, then acting director of the anthropology department, notified department chair Casey Walsh and Dean Charles Hale of her concerns, which she spelled out in detail. The most salient part of McClure's email is as follows:

The released emails indicate that both Walsh and Hale agreed to a meeting about the issue. In his response, Hale, who is the direct conduit to the upper administration, comments, "This sounds very serious." Hale suggests that the UCSB counsel be notified of the problem.

It seems reasonable to assume that this was the genesis of the investigation my sources tell me the university proceeded to instigate. I am awaiting other documents, which should be produced by the end of April. At that time, I hope to be able to update this story. And, with luck, by then we will know the Sheriff's final conclusions on the purported Jack Cantin remains, along with any statements they might make on the role that Danielle Kurin played in all this.

Addendum: I should have mentioned that at the time of release of these records to me, Dean Charles Hale had not responded to the UCSB public records office's request for his emails. Since Hale is the conduit between the department and the upper administration, I will be insisting that these be produced as required by California law.

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