On Sunday, Nov. 5, Kimberly Latta, Ph.D, accused Stanford professor emeritus Franco Moretti of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape.
Latta — a former English professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a current writer and private practice psychotherapist — posted on social media an email she says she sent to “appropriate authorities at Stanford,” detailing her experience with Moretti when she was a graduate student of his in the 1980s at UC Berkeley.
Latta claims that Moretti “sexually stalked, pressured, and raped her” and that despite reporting it at the time to UC Berkeley’s Title IX office, seemingly no action was taken.
Latta also wrote that the UC Berkeley Title IX officer actively discouraged her from naming Moretti and that Moretti subsequently threatened to ruin Latta’s career if she pressed charges.
Moretti, who has been affiliated with Stanford’s English Department since 2000, is now retired and has moved to Switzerland. He was recently favorably profiled by the New York Times. Latta credits the recent #MeToo campaign on social media as well as the flood of Harvey Weinstein victims going public with their experiences in recent weeks for inspiring her to come forward at this time.
The full email, according to Latta’s social media posts, is as follows:
Subject: Sexual Predator Franco Moretti
Dear Those Who are Concerned about Sexual Abusers at Stanford:
I am writing to report that when I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley in 1984-85, my then-professor Franco Moretti sexually stalked, pressured, and raped me. He specifically said to me, “You Americans girls say no when you mean yes.” He raped me in my apartment in Oakland. He also would frequently push me up against the wall in his office, right next to the window that looked out at the library, and push up my shirt and bra and forcibly kiss me, against my will. I reported him to the Title IX officer, who was then Frances Ferguson, Ph.D. She was a friend of his and urged me not to make a report. I insisted, but she persuaded me to leave only his initials in her documents, in case someone else reported that he had abused her. I have no reason to believe that she did not do what she said she would do. I told Franco about my conversation with Ferguson, and he threatened to ruin my career if I pressed charges against him. He said he had powerful friends who were attorneys who would ruin my name. I remained silent for all these years because I was in academia. I have told a number of people about it privately, however. These are upstanding, well-known professors of History and English at other institutions, who would certainly corroborate my story.
I am encouraged to report in the wake of the Weinstein and #metoo movements.
This man has certainly assaulted many other women over the course of his fabulously successful career. It’s time that the truth came out about this predator. I will take any lie detector and make any affidavits necessary to assure that he is brought to justice.
Kimberly S Latta, PhD, LSW
This comes just days after another former Stanford English Dept. professor, Jay Fliegelman (who died in 2007), was publicly accused of having sexually harassed and raped a student around the year 2000, as reported by Inside Higher Ed.
As of the time of publication, there have been no news reports of Latta’s accusation nor any public acknowledgements or statements by Moretti, Stanford, or UC Berkeley. Latta, Moretti, Ferguson, and Stanford English Dept. Chair Alex Woloch have been reached out to for comment. This story will be updated to reflect any statements received.
Andrew Granato contributed reporting.
Update, Nov. 10, 2017, 4:00am PT: In an email to Stanford Politics, Franco Moretti wrote that he only learned about Latta’s allegations after we reported it. Moretti offered us the following statement:
I did meet Kimberly Latta during my visit at Berkeley in 1985; we went out to dinner together one night and back to her apartment where we had fully consensual sex and I spent the night. I did not rape her, and am horrified by the accusation.
In the weeks that followed we saw each other occasionally, including at her initiative, and remained on good terms until the end of my stay at Berkeley.
I did not know Frances Ferguson at the time (though we became friends later), had no powerful attorney friends, and certainly did not threaten to ruin any career. I was a visitor, with no prospect, back then, of ever being part of the American academy. Unfortunately, I fear this accusation will have an enormous impact on colleagues, friends, and family, despite being utterly false.
Update, Nov. 10, 2017, 6:30am PT: Frances Ferguson, the then-Title IX officer at UC Berkeley whom Latta claims discouraged a formal report of the sexual assault allegations against Moretti, gave the following statement by email to Stanford Politics:
When Kimberly Latta spoke with me when I was the Title IX officer at Berkeley, she described Moretti’s unwelcome advances to her in his office but she did not tell me that he had raped her. She came to see me once, and I thought that the fact that she did not come to see me again meant that she had persuaded him to leave her alone and that she had decided not to file a formal complaint.
There were standard procedures laid out for dealing with sexual harassment, and brochures that outlined the possible courses of action open to anyone being harassed. I described to Latta the actions she could take — to file a formal written complaint that would be shown to Moretti in the course of an investigation or to make an informal complaint, which allowed me to make notes about our conversation but did not allow me to investigate. I believed that Kimberly Latta did not want to file a formal complaint at the time she met with me, and I told her that the sexual harassment guidelines suggested, as one step, that she, as someone being harassed, might write a letter to her harasser to put him on written notice that his advances were unwelcome. Such a letter could be used to support a formal complaint if she decided to make one later.
Because Latta did not file a written complaint I was not authorized to call Moretti into my office to interview him. But I did make notes documenting my conversation with her and the date on which it occurred so that it would be a contemporaneous record of the behavior that could be used if she did decide to make a formal complaint.
I thought I was describing Latta’s options and giving her a chance to decide if she wanted to proceed to file a formal complaint. She thought I was telling her to go away.
I should also say that, far from being a friend of Moretti’s at the time that Latta came to me, I was not even an acquaintance of his. I don’t believe that I had so much as met him during the time he was at Berkeley.
Update, Nov. 10, 2017, 5:30pm PT: David Lee Miller, a professor and digital humanities scholar at University of South Carolina tweeted on Friday, Nov. 10, that he had heard “significant parts” of Latta’s story from her “more than fifteen years ago.” “I believed her then and believe her now,” he wrote. Miller has been reached out to by Stanford Politics for more details about his ability to corroborate Latta’s recent account.
I believe that Kimberly Latta is telling the truth. I heard significant parts of the story from her more than fifteen years ago. I believed her then and believe her now. https://t.co/qHsKzpyTKx
— David Lee Miller (@dmill1951) November 10, 2017
Update, Nov. 12, 2017, 10:00pm PT: In an interview with Stanford Politics, Dr. Miller confirmed that, in fall 2000, Latta “told me about the experience in [Moretti’s] office of being pushed up against the wall and having her clothing pushed up and being grabbed.” “She told me that [Moretti] had raped her.” Miller says that, as a general matter, “the culture surrounding sex, around what is consensual, wasn’t clearly articulated back then, and that does leave room for misunderstanding,” but he believes Latta’s accusation that Moretti assaulted her is truthful.
Update, Nov. 13, 2017, 8:30am PT: Frances Ferguson, the then-Title IX officer at Berkeley accused by Latta of dismissing her case, is now a visiting professor of English at Princeton. On Sat., Nov. 11, the Daily Princetonian published a news article titled “Former UC Berkeley student alleges visiting U. professor covered up Title IX case.” In the story, a follow-up conversation with Latta clarifies that Latta assumed Ferguson was friends with Moretti because she knew Moretti had friends in the English department and Ferguson was in the English department. Further, Latta clarifies that she “may not have told [Ferguson] that [she]was raped [by Moretti].” Nevertheless, Latta, according to the Daily Princetonian, “was shocked by Ferguson’s disinterest in the situation…’She treats it as though [Moretti asking for sex] were nothing, like it was no big deal,’ Latta said.”
In an email response to the Daily Princetonian, forwarded to Stanford Politics, Ferguson clarifies:
When I made my [initial]statement to Stanford Politics, I wanted to be sure to confirm that I had spoken with Kimberly Latta in 1984-85, because I did not want to discredit the basic point she was making — that she had told me that she was mistreated. I wanted to be sure not to impugn her honesty. The remarks of hers that you quote make it clear to me that she imagined that I was in a position to be able (a)to provide emotional support and advocacy and (b)to impose disciplinary penalties on the basis of the conversation she and I had.
Unfortunately, the Title IX officer is (or was, when I was doing the job) tasked with (a)receiving informal and formal complaints and (b)investigating the formal complaints. In practice this means that the Title IX officer can’t start out as an advocate, because doing so would compromise their ability to investigate. Having a Title IX officer take the side of a complainant when she/he/they have not yet decided whether they want to make a formal complaint would effectively deprive them of the possibility of proceeding to make a formal complaint. The Title IX officer needs to maintain an impassive demeanor even when hearing a very distressing report in an informal complaint. Showing support is something one can only do once an investigation of a formal report has been completed and a disciplinary action taken.
In a succinct statement to Stanford Politics, Ferguson summarized: “I could not cover up for a friend I did not have. I could not cover up something I had never been told. I could not investigate a complaint that Kimberly Latta had not authorized me to investigate.”
Update, Nov. 13, 2017, 8:30am PT: On Sat., Nov. 11, Stanford Politics was informed by multiple sources that Stanford University Communications mandated on Friday that “no English faculty is permitted to speak to the press.” One source described the email received as “a gag order.”
When asked if this is true, vice president of University Communications Lisa Lapin told Stanford Politics:
There is no restriction on any member of the university community—faculty and students are always welcome to share their personal perspectives on any issue with media, or any one else. However, faculty members and university employees are bound by [California employment law and federal privacy laws (FERPA) that prevent the university from sharing details of any specific case], which means they must honor confidentiality and privacy laws when they do engage with media as representatives of the university.
The Stanford Daily has published a full story on the topic here.
Separately, regarding the Latta/Moretti case and sexual assault in general, Lapin told Stanford Politics:
As you know, the allegations related to Prof. Moretti date to 1984-85 and took place at UC Berkeley. So the university must determine whether there is any action that Stanford could take in this matter. This is the first time that Stanford has been made aware of these allegations and we have reached out to the reporting party…In terms of our processes, Stanford considers every case of sexual assault to be one too many. Under our current processes, if a faculty member is found following an investigation to have assaulted a student, separation from the university is the likely outcome. You may be aware that we also have consensual relationship policies that prohibit sexual or romantic relationships between faculty and all undergraduates, as well as between faculty and graduate students for whom the faculty member has, or may have in the future, academic responsibility.
More Updates: On Thurs., Nov. 16, the Stanford Daily reported on two more allegations against Franco Moretti of sexual harassment and assault at Johns Hopkins and Dartmouth universities. On Fri., Nov. 17, Stanford Politics published an op-ed by Kimberly Latta detailing her perspective on her experience with Moretti in the 1980s. On Sun., Dec. 3, Stanford Politics published a report with more details on Jay Fliegelman.