A former Stanford professor has publicly claimed that she was pressured into leaving the University for reporting another professor’s inappropriate behavior.
In an article published last Monday, the Guardian wrote that Michelle Karnes filed a sexual harassment complaint against Stephen Hinton after a series of unwanted advances. But even before the complaint was submitted, Karnes said that the University responded in such a way that effectively made it impossible for her to stay.
“I thought I was in the club, and I learned that I wasn’t,” Karnes wrote in a Facebook post the day the Guardian article was published. “I didn’t expect that the very people I reached out to would be the agents of retaliation against me.”
Karnes was hired as a literature professor in 2008. Hinton, then the Senior Associate Dean for Humanities & Arts, was “very supportive of” Karnes’ early career, according to the Guardian. (Hinton stepped down as dean in 2010.) It was in 2011 that Karnes claims Hinton began flirting with her, escalating to unwanted advances in the summer of 2012. Hinton allegedly told Karnes that he had a “crush” on her in July; around the same time, there was an incident in which Hinton kissed Karnes on the lips. Despite making it clear that his advances were not appreciated, Karnes said that Hinton continued to approach her at the gym.
“I just wanted to crawl out of my skin, I was so uncomfortable,” Karnes told the Guardian.
In emails to both the Guardian and the Daily, Hinton described his relationship with Karnes as “platonic” and “warm.” Hinton sent a prepared statement to The Daily in which he confirmed the kissing incident, but claimed that it happened on accident and was “embarrassing and far from romantic.” Hinton declined to respond to specific questions from The Daily.
Karnes told The Daily via email that she threatened to file a sexual harassment complaint against Hinton in Aug. 2012, at which point he retreated. Karnes did not file the complaint at the time, but did tell her colleague Tanya Luhrmann of Hinton’s actions in December that year.
“I told her what had happened, without naming Hinton, and then she guessed who it was,” Karnes wrote. “Hinton was her first guess, actually.”
Luhrmann then told her husband, Richard Saller, who serves as dean of the School of Humanities & Sciences. They both advised Karnes against consulting the sexual harassment office or filing a formal complaint.
In Feb 2015, Karnes learned that her application for tenure was successful, thanks to unanimous support from the Department of English. But within days, she learned that her husband — Shane Duarte, a philosophy lecturer, who was hired alongside her in 2008—would not have his position renewed in 2016.
Karnes suspected that the University was expecting her tenure to be denied, and subsequently fired her husband when this came not to be the case. The Guardian wrote that Duarte was reviewed positively on teacher evaluations; Karnes said that three departments other than philosophy wanted Duarte to teach classes for them, but that the dean’s office would not provide funding for those classes.
In Karnes’ emails to The Daily, she shared a report conducted by Stanford about dual-career academic couples; among the key findings of this report was the fact that faculty members, especially women, are more likely to refuse job offers if their partners are not accommodated.
“Why give someone a job for life and suddenly make it impossible for her to stay?” Karnes said.
When Karnes discussed the situation with Debra Satz, the current Senior Associate Dean of Humanities & Arts, Satz suggested that she find a new job, as did Luhrmann in a separate conversation. Karnes and her husband have since relocated to Notre Dame; Karnes began teaching there this fall, while Duarte’s position will begin in fall of 2017.
Karnes finally filed her sexual harassment complaint against Hinton in Oct. 2015 in response to pressure from various administrators to leave. Hinton claimed that he “participated fully” in the subsequent investigation, which was completed in February 2016. The investigation determined that Hinton had made an “unwanted sexual advance” toward Karnes, but it is unclear if Hinton was disciplined or reprimanded for his actions. In her emails to The Daily, Karnes wrote that she received a “heavily redacted” version of the investigator’s report; while the report found Karnes “to be more credible” than Hinton, Karnes wrote that the investigator claimed she had “flirted” with Hinton for six months.
Senior Director of Strategic Communications Brad Hayward was unable to discuss personnel matters, but stated that the investigation determined that Hinton’s actions “did not constitute sexual assault under university policy or the law,” and that the University did not retaliate against Karnes. Hayward also provided a link to Stanford’s definition of sexual harassment, which specifies that certain behavior only constitutes sexual harassment if it either factors in academic or employment decisions, or if it creates a hostile environment for the recipient.
Karnes’ sexual harassment claims are the latest to rock Stanford in the last several years. In the past year alone, Stanford has drawn criticism that the University is not doing enough to combat sexual harassment and sexual assault — most notably, refusing a widely-supported student referendum to redo the Campus Climate Survey and instating a hard liquor ban that many students perceived as a reaction to unwanted publicity stemming from the Brock Turner case. As of Nov. 23, Stanford has four Title IX cases under federal investigation.
Karnes said that it was the stories of students that compelled her to share her own.
“I know a few grad students at Stanford who’ve been harassed by their advisors, and it’s hard for them to go public since they’re at the beginning of their careers,” Karnes wrote. “I figured that, since I have tenure, I should speak up, and maybe that’ll help people in less-secure positions down the road.”
Correction: According to Karnes, an earlier version of this article stated mistakenly that Luhrmann and her husband recommended Karnes consult the sexual harassment office, and that Karnes had a job offer from Notre Dame at the time of a later conversation with Luhrmann. Both of these statements have since been corrected. The Daily regrets these errors.
UPDATE: In the days following the publication of this piece, both Hayward and Hinton emailed the Daily to clarify and respond to some of the claims made.
Hayward refuted the claim that Karnes was told not to talk to a sexual harassment adviser or file a complaint, and cited an email from December 2012 in which Luhrmann suggested Karnes talk to Laura Carstensen, who was at the time a sexual harassment adviser. However, Luhrmann told Karnes in the same email that she had asked her husband, Dean Saller, who “was very clear that you do not need to file a formal complaint.” Carstensen said she “most certainly would have contacted” the Sexual Harassment Policy Office if Karnes had spoken with her; Karnes ultimately did not contact Carstensen.
Hayward also reiterated both the “limited-term nature” of Duarte’s employment and the independent investigation into Karnes’ claims of harassment and retaliation. The report determined that Hinton’s actions were an “unwanted sexual advance” that did not rise to the level of sexual harassment, and that Duarte’s nonrenewal simply was a result of his not acquiring a permanent position after seven years of temporary employment.
Meanwhile, Hinton claimed that Karnes’ sexual harassment complaint was made to support her testimony that Duarte’s firing was retaliatory. He also decried the Guardian article as “demonstrably false.”
“The relationship was squarely platonic for the many months of our acquaintance,” Hinton wrote. “The claim that I wanted anything more than a platonic friendship arose from a single conversation that Prof. Karnes misinterpreted.”
The Daily is currently writing a follow-up to this article that will include additional details from both Karnes’ side and the University’s.
Contact Jacob Nierenberg at jhn2017 ‘at’ stanford.edu.