SF Scholar Rob Latham Fired by University of California

Rob Latham in 2008.

Rob Latham in 2008.

Rob Latham, a tenured professor of English at University of California, Riverside and a member of its science fiction research cluster who evangelized the Eaton Collection throughout fandom, has been fired by the UC Board of Regents. Charges of sexual harassment and substance abuse are addressed in Latham’s 3,900-word statement, first presented to the Regents and now published by the Academe Blog, however, the exact charges are not quoted.

He denied the complaint of sexual harassment:

….I can’t believe that this case, which began with false charges of sexual harassment brought by a disgruntled graduate student and his girlfriend, has been allowed to reach the Board of Regents. It should have been settled through informal mediation long ago.

However, not only was no such good faith effort ever attempted by the UCR administration, but I was never even invited to respond to the charges or to submit exculpatory evidence. Instead, the administration adopted an adversarial posture from the outset, as if the original allegations—the vast majority of which we now know to be untrue—had already been proven. As Vice Provost Daniel Ozer testified at the disciplinary hearing, the administration never sought to change course even when it became clear that the two complainants had submitted doctored evidence and leveled charges that were proven false by a police investigation.

He argued the issue of substance abuse was being manipulated to support a disproportionate disciplinary action:

I made a serious error of judgment in relation to substance abuse, for which I sought treatment one full year before any charges were filed against me. The Senate, for whatever reason, gave me no credit for that effort at self-correction, and now Chancellor Wilcox is asking you to dismiss me for the recurrence of a psychological illness, rather than for the original charges of flagrant, serial sexual harassment—charges that were considered and dismissed by the Hearing Committee, whose findings the Chancellor has accepted in their entirety.

He levied many criticisms against the hearing process in his address to the Regents, including —

I have outlined, in my ten-page written statement, the political pressures and rank homophobia that deformed the disciplinary process, including acts of official misconduct that are currently being investigated by the Faculty Senate. All I will repeat here is that the intervention of the graduate student union, at an early juncture of this case, and their threats to “go public” if the administration did not acquiesce to their demand for my “removal as Professor of English,” was crucial in setting the administration on the course they pursued. This course included manipulating and corrupting an ostensibly fair and impartial Title IX investigation, coaching student witnesses supportive of their case while attempting to intimidate those supportive of me, and suppressing evidence crucial to my defense before the Faculty Senate.

Latham spent the first 13 years of his teaching career at the University of Iowa as a Professor of English and American Studies, where he ran a Program in Sexuality Studies.

He was hired by UC Riverside in 2008 to join the English Department faculty, with responsibilities that included serving as an informal liaison to the J. Lloyd Eaton Collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Utopian Literature. He received the Clareson Award for Distinguished Service from the SF Research Association in 2012, the field’s premier award.

Latham has made many connections with fanzine fans. He contributed a perceptive and well-received article to Earl Kemp’s eI #37 about using fanzines for academic research. Mike Horvat’s vast fanzine collection landed at the University of Iowa because a former student of Latham’s, Greg Beatty, a UI graduate spotted the listing online, and immediately emailed Latham.

Despite the growing prestige of UCR’s science fiction collection and research, there have been signs of conflict between the administration and faculty members in UCR’s science fiction research cluster. Both Latham and Nalo Hopkinson, a well-known sf writer and another member of that research cluster, publically expressed concern in summer 2014 about the way the Eaton Collection was being administered (see “How Healthy Is The Eaton Collection?”.)

Nothing that was aired in 2014 seems directly related to the issues in Latham’s hearing, other than the foreshadowing of the toxic professional relationships explicitly described in Latham’s statement to the Regents:

My hiring was the result of an international search for a senior scholar, mounted by former Dean Steve Cullenberg and former Chancellor Tim White, two very good men and superb administrators with whom I had an excellent working relationship. However, following the hire of Chancellor Wilcox in 2013—and especially of Provost D’Anieri in 2014—the atmosphere at UCR changed from one of cooperation and consultation with faculty to one of confrontation and hostility. I say this merely to indicate that I gave seven years of exemplary service to the campus but, following the lodging of false charges by a student with a grudge, have been hounded by a vengeful administration intent on railroading me out of my job.

Readers do not have full information to evaluate the case, nor is that likely to become public unless Latham follows up with a lawsuit and the suit goes to trial. However, news of Latham’s firing is all the more surprising for coming at the same time his standing as a scholar has been affirmed by an announcement that the MLA 2017 session “Dangerous Visions: Science Fiction’s Countercultures” will base its call for papers on responses to Latham’s “Countercultures” chapter in his edited volume The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction (2014).

[Thanks to Andrew Porter and Nick Mamatas for the story.]

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28 thoughts on “SF Scholar Rob Latham Fired by University of California

  1. I will be very interested to see if this goes to court and more details come out. Right now UC Riverside is not looking too righteous.

  2. Interesting to compare with Geoff Marcy of UCB, who was plainly, hideously guilty of more than a decade of sexual harassment and received rather light punishment from the school, and certainly was not fired by the Regents (though he sure as hell should have been).

  3. Rob Latham: It’s going to court, all right.

    I am very glad to hear that.

    Obviously, I don’t know all the details, but it sounds to me as though you’ve been hard done by, and I’m really sorry that you’re having to deal with such a life-wrecking event.

    I wish you much fortitude, and good people to support you in times when you might start to despair. Stay strong.

  4. This is one of those stories that just make me think it’s time to leave California and move back to Iowa. Sure, there’s the whole idiocy that is the Republican caucus garbage, but those people are easily identified and avoided.
    Interesting how Google is not bringing up anything.
    And, as usual, the comments in the one article I went to read was full of supportive comments from people who gave their real names and the negative one used an overly long alias.
    Give them hell. They should have told the graduate student senate to attend to their own knitting.

  5. Rob’s name is also on the cover of possibly the best anthology I’ve read: The Wesleyan Anthology of Science Fiction. May it all go well for him (from this point forward, anyway).

  6. Rob was one of the directors (as was I), of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards, and was instrumental in us being able to present the Awards. I’m very sad to hear this has happened, and I hope that justice prevails.

  7. My guess is that this has to do with UCR’s attempts to dismantle the Eaton collection more than any action on the part of the professor. Universities seem very adept at defending/keeping faculty and staff that they like, no matter how badly they need to be gone. They also seem quite good at pushing out those who they find inconvenient, regardless of the evidence.

  8. It sounds as if Latham is unfortunate enough to be standing between the UCR administration and something they want to do, and that they found a stick to beat him with.
    Universities get away with this kind of thing by keeping it all within the campus systems: in-house hearings that – surprise! – end up coming to the decisions the administration wanted.

    The contrast with the case of actual abuser Geoff Marcy is of interest, especially since the some-sort-of-vice-chancellor who had covered it up ended up “retiring,” when a whitewash bandaid fix failed to keep the problem covered it up.
    So, yeah, I hope this gets out into a real court, and makes the kind of mess the UC system hates to see happen – maybe heads will roll?
    Or no, maybe heads will retire to spend time with their families.

    Stay strong, and best of luck with the fight.

  9. I know absolutely nothing about Latham, this case, the collection or whatever, but I do find a little weird regarding a sexual harassment case that everyone calls out as if obviously nothing has happened because the accused says it hasn’t.

    What am I missing? Has there been more information here that everyone else has read?

  10. Hampus Eckerman: What am I missing? Has there been more information here that everyone else has read?

    Did you read the linked article at Academe Blog, which details what the supposed sexual harassment was, and points out that the University later agreed that the charge was spurious?

  11. I have the same thought as Hampus here. It’s not that I don’t think Latham’s account for himself is lucid and well thought-out (it is), it is that we have several impulses here that we need to be aware of.

    The first is that false accusations of harassment or sexual assaults seems to be rare. Now, this is statistics, and not the actual case here, but we basically only have Latham’s word here that the accusation of harassment is false.

    Second is that we must be aware of the familiarity bias. That’s partly why Woody Allen or Roman Polanski has all sorts of high-status defenders within the movie world, and why Marion Zimmer Bradley or Walter Breen could remain within fandom. In this case, Latham is one of us, so we tend to believe the best of him.

    Latham’s guilt or innocence is not for me to decide, and I know to little to judge other than that UCR’s actions seems pretty harsh, even if the allegations happen to be true.

  12. (Rechecks original post, notes that one of the links I posted for Hampus was already up there in one of the bits I skimmed before. Oops.)

  13. I find it incredibly disheartening that many of the above commenters–who have only heard one very biased side of the story–would rather invent a conspiracy theory about the administration’s motives than live for a moment in the uncomfortable possibility that a respected colleague could have harmed his students. Also, how thoughtless to criticize his students/former students for not using their real names in their negative posts about Latham on his blogs. Do you have any idea what risks we take and have taken by standing up to him, especially those of us who are pursuing careers in his field? Do you know or care how of us have remained silent out of fear? Students do not deserve to be punching bags, especially when you don’t know anything about what they’ve been through

  14. JJ:

    “Did you read the linked article at Academe Blog, which details what the supposed sexual harassment was, and points out that the University later agreed that the charge was spurious?”

    I read the statement by Latham that was published on the linked Academe Blog. Was there a separate article also? I’m sorry, but I usually don’t take statements by accused as facts in cases of sexual harassment. :/

  15. Hampus Eckerman: I read the statement by Latham that was published on the linked Academe Blog. Was there a separate article also? I’m sorry, but I usually don’t take statements by accused as facts in cases of sexual harassment.

    Perhaps not — but I would expect that if Latham had misrepresented the substance of the harassment charges, and the investigation’s subsequent evaluation of those charges, in a post on the blog for the American Association of University Professors, it would come out publicly tout suite. Administrators at the University would not be likely to let that sort of misrepresentation stand uncontradicted.

  16. The latest post in the comment thread for the Academe link:

    “I am the “former chair” whom Rob quotes in his post. Rob takes my words out of context and gives the false impression that I was prevented from speaking on his behalf at the hearing. It is true that I had a high regard for Rob’s teaching and scholarship before this case began, and I supported him in many ways while I was chair. I liked him as a person and as a colleague. However, by the time of the hearing, I had come to believe that Rob had profoundly betrayed my trust. In my opinion, Rob has harmed our students, damaged our program, and betrayed his colleagues and friends. That’s the gist of what I would have said had there been time for me to speak.

    I was involved with the case from the beginning and I believe that all procedures governing the disciplinary process at UCR were followed carefully. Rob had every opportunity to tell his side of the story and advance his theory of the case. He thinks what he has done is trivial. It is not.

    For once a university stood up for its students and made the right call. I applaud the decision by the UC Regents.

    Here is a statement recently approved by the English Department at UCR:

    “We, the faculty of the English Department at the University of California, Riverside would like to respond to Dr. Latham’s public statement. We wish to go on record in support of the decision of the University of California Board of Regents, which Dr. Latham references in emails to us. We stand with our graduate students, and those who came forward, filed complaints and supported each other through this difficult process. We are committed to moving forward with our students, and to working together to repair any and all harm done to our community and to our campus.”

    Deborah Willis
    English Department Chair from 2009-2015
    UC Riverside”

  17. I don’t know whether there’s any substance to the charges against Latham (though, as already noted, false accusations are relatively rare). But the existence of an MLA session based on something he wrote neither supports nor refutes the accusation, because he hasn’t been accused of poor scholarship.

    Yes, it’s natural to think “he did these other good things, therefore he must be innocent” (or, conversely, to assume that someone is guilty of an unrelated accusation because their work is shoddy and they are Wrong about The Lord of the Rings).

  18. Vicki Rosenzweig:

    But the existence of an MLA session based on something he wrote neither supports nor refutes the accusation, because he hasn’t been accused of poor scholarship.

    If you want to make an a priori statement that false accusations are relatively rare, go right ahead, but please don’t imply that answers something I wrote.

    I said that the announcement was more surprising because it came on the heels of the MLA announcement. I just read about this new accolade for Latham the other day, and now I read he’s been fired. I found that surprising. Before noting that surprise, I emphasized that readers don’t have enough information to evaluate the case (and probably never will — even if there’s a suit, most suits settle before trial.)

  19. From Prof. Latham’s statement:

    “You’re an intellectual thoroughbred, kiddo, and I’ve mentored very few of those in my career. I have to resist the impulse to ride you too hard too soon. If you’ll forgive the equine metaphor.”

    Suffice to say it is transparently obvious that, if a heterosexual man had made the exact same statement, no lewd implication would ever have been inferred.

    That’s anything but “transparently obvious” to me. Maybe different professional fields have different standards, but I would never use language like that toward people I’m mentoring (regardless of how their gender aligns with my sexual orientation), and I would feel thoroughly weirded out if any of my mentors had used such language.

  20. I looked at the UC Regents website. It shows the dismissal was discussed in a closed session. The action and trustees’ votes are reported there.

    The decision was taken by a vote of 14-5.

    January 20, 2016
    [Recommendation to be available for release pursuant to instructions from the Office of the General Counsel.]
    Board vote: Regents Davis, De La Peña, Elliott, Gorman, Gould, Lozano, Napolitano, Ortiz Oakley, Oved, Reiss, Ruiz, Sherman, Wachter, and Zettel voting “aye,” Regents Island, Kieffer, Lansing, Pattiz, and Pérez voting “no.”

  21. Since there appears to be some doubt, let me make clear the UCR Faculty Senate’s verdict on the charges of sexual harassment brought by the two grad student complainants:

    “Taken as a whole, the Hearing Committee finds no clear and convincing evidence that Professor Latham violated the UC Sexual Harassment Policy, APM 015-II.A (Ethical Principles), or APM-015 II.A.2 with regard to Complainant #1….

    “The Hearing Committee finds no clear and convincing evidence that Professor Latham violated the UC Sexual Harassment Policy, APM-015 II.A (Ethical Principles), or APM-015 II.A.6 (entering into a sexual relationship with students) or APM-015.II.A.7 with regard to Complainant #2.”

    More specifically, the evidentiary record, considered as a whole and in context (as required by UC Sexual Harassment Policy), “argues strongly against a pattern of sexual harassment.”

    That’s pretty much all I can say right now, except to add that false charges of harassment are in fact not rare at all. More than half of all harassment allegations, according to statistics gathered by the Department of Education, are dismissed for “no reasonable cause”:


    Much more will eventually come out in court. I will be happy to let the facts speak for me. But I will say that, as some of the commenters above have divined, this whole matter is *not* disconnected from administrative politics at UCR that had already damaged the Eaton Collection and driven out its brilliant shepherd, Melissa Conway.

  22. Mike:

    I carelessly addressed a couple of different points in my comment. There is indeed no logical connection between the question of what fraction of accusations are valid, and your surprise at the timing given the MLA session.

    But since there’s also no evidentiary connection between the MLA session and its time, and the accusations of sexual harassment, I threw the whole thing into one post. The timing might be surprising, but mentioning it is, I think, partly confirmation bias: we notice apparent contrasts.

    If a person’s work is the basis for an MLA session while the rest of their career is going well, we aren’t likely to say “that’s weird, I just heard about this MLA session about the work of someone who also has a new book out” or “and they just won an award for their teaching.” If we noticed the pair of things, it wouldn’t be with “that’s odd.” Also, if the only news about Latham was the MLA session, we wouldn’t assume that there was something missing from the story, because it’s ordinary for someone to be in the news for a single deed or event.

    Also, just to be clear, I want to reiterate that I have absolutely no evidence about the accusations except that they exist; the above is not saying “he should have been fired” or “the charges were trumped-up” or anything in between.

  23. Rob, please, surely you do not believe that dismissal of a case always mean that the accusation was false? I’ve had enough of that argument. See above mentioned Geoff Marcy whose cases were thrown away on repeat.

  24. Hampus Eckerman: Let me be clearer, then. The Committee did not say it did not find sufficient evidence to sustain the charges. It said the students’ allegations were “not credible,” “inconsistent with contemporaneous evidence,” and contradicted by multiple other witnesses (see my original statement). Since I was speaking to the UC Regents when I said all this, and since they had a copy of the Senate’s report before them, you can assume I did not make this up. But I understand that, in today’s environment, an accusation of harassment is tantamount to a verdict of guilt. For myself, I’ve had enough of that argument.

  25. I’ve read through the entire thread on Rob’s original posting on Academe Blog, and I have to say that it makes me glad — for the first time in decades — that I chose to go to law school with the intention of practicing instead of graduate school in English with the intention of teaching. So many special snowflakes! I feel very sorry for the students commenting on that thread when they get into the real world; it will be a harsh awakening. I’m thoroughly appalled.

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