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November 16, 2017

English Professor Accused of Mishandling Title IX Case in ’80s at Cal

Ann L. and Lawrence B. Buttenwieser Professor of English Frances Ferguson is disputing an accusation that she mishandled a Title IX case 30 years ago when she was a Title IX officer at UC Berkeley. Ferguson is a visiting professor of poetry this fall at Princeton University.

Kimberly Latta, a psychotherapist, writer, and former professor, recently wrote in a Facebook post that retired Stanford professor Franco Moretti raped her in the mid ’80s when she was a graduate student at UC Berkeley and he was a professor there. Latta alleges that Ferguson disregarded her claims and advised her not to file a report. Latta further wrote that Ferguson gave this advice because she was friends with Moretti, though Moretti and Ferguson deny that they knew each other at the time, according to the Stanford Daily.

The Daily also reports that women allege Moretti harassed them at Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins. Moretti was considered for a faculty position at Hopkins where Ferguson backed his candidacy, according to a Hopkins professor contacted by the Daily who asked to remain anonymous.

Moretti said that he had consensual sex with Latta, but has denied the allegations of rape.

The November 5 post gives Latta’s account of her interaction with Ferguson when she attempted to report the rape in 1985. “I reported [Moretti] 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,” the post reads.

Latta also stated in the Facebook post that her account of events can be corroborated by colleagues in whom she confided after Moretti’s assault while still being his student. “There are upstanding, well-known professors of History and English at other institutions, who would certainly corroborate my story,” Latta said. Multiple people who Latta knew at the time have since endorsed parts of her story.

The University news office directed The Maroon to a conversation between Dean of Students in the University Michele Rasmussen and former Title IX coordinator Sarah Wake where they outline the steps taken when the University Title IX office receives a report. The news office had no comment regarding University intentions to investigate the allegations against Ferguson.

When asked for comment, Ferguson directed Maroon reporters to statements made to Stanford Politics and The Daily Californian earlier this week, in which she claims that all standard Title IX procedures were followed while handling Latta’s case. She said that in order for her to interview Moretti and pursue the case, Latta would have had to file a written complaint.

“I believed that Kimberly Latta did not want to file a formal complaint,” Ferguson told Stanford Politics. “Because Latta did not file a written complaint, I was not authorized to call Moretti into my office to interview him.”

Ferguson felt that Latta’s explanation of the situation at the time did not convey the severity of the case. “I had the impression that [Latta] was saying that he was asking her to have sex with him, but he was not putting pressure on her—past just being initially soliciting her attention,” Ferguson said.

Responding to the supposed friendship between Moretti and Ferguson, both deny acquaintance prior to Ferguson’s and Latta’s interaction. In e-mail statements to Stanford Politics, Moretti claimed he “did not know Frances Ferguson at the time,” and Ferguson said she was “far from being a friend of Moretti’s at the time” and believed she “hadn’t so much as met him during the time he was at Berkeley.”

Ferguson believes that Latta imagined a greater emotional response from Ferguson after explaining the case, which led Latta to have unrealistic expectations about the support system Ferguson could provide. As Title IX coordinator, Ferguson claims her position required professional and emotionally detached interaction when presented with cases. “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,” Ferguson said.

In a statement to The Daily Californian, Ferguson elaborated: “I tried to maintain an impassive demeanor even when I heard distressing reports, because I didn’t want to jeopardize the possibility of having a later decision that the University legal counsel would throw out for bias.”

Update: Since the initial publication of this article Latta has released a more detailed statement recounting the events of her case. “She was on his side,” Latta said. “I remember her adamantly commanding me ‘Don’t tell me his name,’” she continued, “She discouraged me from filing a formal report by describing the process as involving a scrutiny that sounded more traumatizing than what I was already undergoing.” 

Ferguson responded to Latta’s statement telling The Maroon through a University spokesperson: “I respect that we remember some of these events differently, as I have described previously. I have always believed it is vitally important to approach reports of sexual assault or harassment seriously, fairly, and in compliance with the law, and I hope this discussion will encourage women who have experienced such behavior to come forward."

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