UC Irvine professor resigns after allegation of sexual misconduct with underage boarding-school student in the 1970s
Ron Carlson, an American author who has led creative writing programs at two major universities, has resigned from UC Irvine after being accused of sexual misconduct with an underage student when he was a teacher at a prestigious Connecticut boarding school in the 1970s.
Carlson, who has published stories and reviews in the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times and other high-profile publications, became director of the fiction program for masters students at UC Irvine in 2006 after holding a similar position at Arizona State University.
The reported allegations against Carlson involve his tenure as an English teacher and dorm advisor between 1971 and 1981 at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn.
In a report released Aug. 17, Carlson was one of seven faculty members named and accused of “substantiated reports of sexual misconduct.”
The Hotchkiss School had commissioned a law firm, Locke Lord, to investigate former students’ allegations of sexual abuse. Students and teachers both lived in dorm-style quarters at the campus.
The report said that in the mid-1970s — about the time the formerly all-male school first allowed female students to enroll — Carlson was the “dorm parent” of a female “lower mid” student, the school’s equivalent of a 10th-grader. (The report did not identify the students.) Carlson was in his mid-20s at the time.
The student found Carlson “charismatic and viewed him as a sort of father figure,” the report said, and after Carlson invited her to his dormitory apartment one evening, he kissed her unprompted.
The report said Carlson continued to kiss and fondle the student for the remainder of the school year when they were alone. In one instance, Carlson “digitally penetrated her vagina” before another faculty member knocked on the door of Carlson’s dorm apartment, the report said.
After a falling out, the student confronted Carlson about his “sexual misconduct toward her,” according to the report, which said the student told a friend and another Hotchkiss faculty member about Carlson’s conduct in the years after she graduated.
Carlson, through an attorney, declined to be interviewed for the school’s inquiry, according to the report. Carlson did not respond to The Times’ messages seeking comment.
Carlson’s resignation from UC Irvine was announced internally Monday in an email to faculty members of the English department, who were not given a reason for his departure.
“He had been mulling this course of action for some time, and the decision was his, and his alone,” Michael Szalay, chairman of the English department, wrote in a message to staff obtained by The Times.
“Ron has been an integral part of our department for many years, and his extraordinary generosity and diligence have shaped our renowned MFA program especially in countless ways,” the message continued. “Please join me in wishing him the very best in his future endeavors. Ron, you will be missed.”
When contacted by The Times, the university acknowledged the Hotchkiss allegations and suggested they played a role in Carlson’s departure.
“We first heard about the report when it was made public through the media several days ago, and are disturbed by the conduct it described,” the university said in a statement. “Upon learning about the report, we accepted Professor Carlson’s immediate resignation.”
The university said there had been “no formal reports of similar conduct during his employment” at UC Irvine.
A spokesman for Arizona State University said that “there was nothing in [Carlson’s] file that indicated there had been any complaints about him” during his tenure there.
Carlson and his work have been featured multiple times in The Times, and he wrote nearly a dozen book reviews for the newspaper between 1992 and 2010.
Times staff writers Teresa Watanabe and Carolyn Kellogg contributed to this report.
Matt Pearce is a national reporter for The Times. Follow him on Twitter at @mattdpearce.
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