Additional information has come to light regarding the case of Michelle Karnes, a former Stanford professor who accused the University of firing her husband in retaliation after she reported sexual harassment.
Several weeks ago, The Daily published an article detailing Karnes’ story; shortly afterward, Senior Director of Strategic Communications Brad Hayward ’93 and Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities Stephen Hinton emailed The Daily to respond to Karnes’ claims. Their accounts, as well as new information from Karnes, provide a more complete chronology of the events that led to Karnes and her husband’s departure from Stanford.
Karnes and her husband, Shane Duarte, were hired in 2008: Karnes on a tenure track in the English department and Duarte as a philosophy lecturer. Karnes began a friendship with Hinton, a music professor, in summer 2011, which lasted until July 2012 – when, according to Karnes, Hinton told her he had a “crush” on her. The following month, Karnes asked Hinton to break off all contact, threatening to file a sexual harassment complaint if he did not. Hinton complied.
In February 2015, Karnes received tenure, but a few days later, Duarte learned that his contract would not be extended beyond the 2015-2016 academic year. After several months of trying to secure a position for Duarte, Karnes filed a sexual harassment complaint in October 2015. An independent investigation into Karnes’ complaint found that Hinton committed an “unwanted sexual advance” but no more. Karnes and Duarte have since accepted positions at the University of Notre Dame.
Hinton denies wrongdoing
Following publication of The Daily’s original article on Karnes’ story, Hinton emailed The Daily to claim that Karnes’ sexual harassment complaint, filed more than three years after the incident, was only made to support her testimony that Duarte’s dismissal was retaliatory. He also decried Karnes’ claims, as well as The Daily’s and Guardian’s accounts of them, 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 Professor Karnes misinterpreted.”
The conversation in question, in which Hinton allegedly confessed to the “crush,” happened in July 2012, not long after an incident in which Hinton kissed Karnes on the lips. Hinton restated that the kiss was accidental, adding that he and Karnes “routinely” hugged and kissed on the cheek when greeting each other.
While Karnes confirmed the latter statement, she found it “hard to believe” that the kiss was an accident, especially given her and Hinton’s later conversation.
Hinton is currently on sabbatical. He said that his leave was planned over a year ago and has “nothing to do with” Karnes’ departure.
Mixed messages over filing a complaint
Several days after The Daily’s article was published, Hayward emailed the paper regarding “several serious problems” with the original piece. His first point of contention was with a correction made to the article, which currently states Karnes’ claim that she was told not to talk to a sexual harassment adviser or file a complaint. Hayward challenged this, citing an email that Karnes received from her colleague, Howard H. and Jessie T. Watkins University Professor Tanya Luhrmann, in December 2012. In the email, Luhrmann suggested Karnes talk to Laura Carstensen, Fairleigh S. Dickinson, Jr. Professor in Public Policy and professor of psychology, who was at the time a sexual harassment adviser.
The email in question was sent shortly after a conversation in which Karnes told Luhrmann of Hinton’s actions as well as her reluctance to file a complaint. Luhrmann discussed the matter with her husband, Richard Saller, who was dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences.
In the email, Luhrmann told Karnes that Saller “was very clear that you do not need to file a formal complaint” and suggested Karnes speak with Carstensen. However, the email referred to Carstensen as “a woman in the psych department of great good sense” and did not explicitly refer to her as a sexual harassment adviser.
Speaking to The Daily after publication of its original piece, Karnes wrote that she was worried that Hinton was next in line to replace Saller as dean and thought that telling Luhrmann about what transpired would be enough to prevent that from happening. Karnes acknowledged that even though speaking with Carstensen did not require filing a complaint, she chose not to contact Carstensen.
“I was still untenured, and I thought it would be unwise to make a fuss about what had happened,” Karnes said.
Luhrmann had told Karnes that any conversations with Carstensen would be kept confidential, and that she could talk to an adviser without naming Hinton — which would have necessitated filing a complaint. But when The Daily asked Carstensen for comment, she replied that she “most certainly would have contacted” the Sexual Harassment Policy Office had Karnes spoken to her.
Faculty “putting pressure on me to leave,” Karnes says
Both Karnes and Luhrmann described their relationship as friendly prior to their December 2012 conversation, but they offered conflicting narratives of their exchanges afterward. Luhrmann told The Daily that they spoke “at least twice a week” while they team-taught a class. Karnes, on the other hand, wrote that they “talked only when work required it” and rarely spoke extensively.
A turning point came in October 2015 when Karnes met with Luhrmann to discuss a syllabus for their shared class: The subject quickly changed to Karnes’ personal life. Luhrmann recalled a “warm and mentorly” exchange in which she advised Karnes to accept a position at Notre Dame should she be offered one.
“I told her about other women I knew who had faced similar choices,” Luhrmann wrote. “I had seen that it often made women angry and upset. I told her that it could be better for the woman, and better for the marriage, to find jobs where both could be equally successful.”
Karnes, on the other hand, told The Daily that there was “nothing friendly” about the conversation, which she reported to Alex Woloch, chair of the English department.
“[Luhrmann] told me that I’d be risking my career and my marriage if I stayed at Stanford and sought a continued position for Shane,” Karnes wrote. “My impression was that she was putting pressure on me to leave Stanford.”
Karnes reiterated that, at the time of her conversation with Luhrmann, she had merely applied for the Notre Dame job.
Additionally, Karnes claimed that Luhrmann was not the first faculty member to suggest that she leave. In April 2015, Karnes met with Debra Satz, senior associate dean of the humanities and arts, regarding possible solutions for Duarte’s employment. In the conversation — which Karnes detailed to Woloch in an email afterward — Satz allegedly suggested that Karnes seek a job at a public university, which would be more accommodating of academic spouses.
“It seems to me a bad sign that my dean basically told me to pack up and head out,” Karnes wrote to Woloch.
Dispuate over Duarte’s dismissal
Hayward offered two more points of contention with The Daily’s original article. Hayward emphasized that an outside independent investigation concluded that although Hinton committed an “unwanted sexual advance,” his behavior met neither the University’s nor the legal definition for sexual harassment. Stanford hired Christine Helwick, formerly General Counsel for the California State University system, to conduct the investigation, which also found no evidence suggesting that Duarte’s non-renewal was an act of retaliation.
Hayward also reiterated the “limited term nature of [Duarte’s] employment” at Stanford. As an untenured lecturer, Duarte’s employment consisted of one- to two-year appointments.
“[Duarte] was advised during this time … that the funding for these positions was by no means guaranteed to continue and that he should look for other ongoing employment,” Hayward wrote. “In fact, others at the University tried to help him find an ongoing position.”
Hayward claimed that the report of Helwick’s investigation corroborated this and provided the following quotation from it: “Duarte’s non-renewal was the result of his temporary employment bridge having already been extended for seven years and his not having found permanent employment, despite many efforts to assist him.”
Hayward declined to share the report with The Daily or elaborate on efforts to assist Duarte.
Luhrmann shared an email she sent to Karnes in September 2011 urging her and Duarte to apply for jobs at Yale-NUS College in Singapore. Karnes also provided The Daily with documents that showed that Satz had attempted to secure an administrative position for Duarte as a possible alternative to his final contract that Karnes and Duarte declined. Karnes wrote that “neither [Duarte] nor Stanford would be best served by placing him in such a position.”
Karnes said she was advised by her department to keep Duarte in short-term employment throughout the duration of her tenure track then negotiate a long-term position for Duarte if she was successful.
Karnes said that most short-term employees have their contracts renewed once and serve two to three years; Duarte was employed for seven years, in which time his contract was renewed four times. In addition to noting how unusual it is for short-term employment to last as long as Duarte’s did, Karnes questioned why Duarte would be dismissed days after she received tenure.
“It’s utterly illogical for them to keep me for seven years while I work toward tenure and then, once I get tenure, force me out,” Karnes wrote.
Karnes backed up her claim that she was forced out with a 2008 report by Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research. One of the report’s key findings was that 88 percent of Stanford faculty who had been hired alongside their partner would have refused their position if their partner had not been accommodated.
“Firing a spouse will cause the couple to leave,” Karnes wrote.
This leads Karnes to believe that Duarte’s dismissal was indeed retaliatory. Seeing as no English professor had received tenure since 2008, Karnes suspected that administrators expected she would not either. When she did, she argued, they discontinued Duarte, knowing the likelihood that Karnes would leave with him.
Karnes said she even offered to turn down raises that would have covered 75 percent of Duarte’s salary had he been allowed to stay, but these offers were refused.
Karnes compared her situation to that of Rebecca Bird, a former tenured professor at Stanford. In her meeting with Luhrmann in December 2012, Luhrmann told Karnes about Bird, who taught anthropology alongside her husband, Douglas. Much like Duarte, Douglas was an untenured lecturer who had taught for nine years on a series of short-term employments. The pair left the University in 2015.
While Luhrmann told The Daily that the Birds left because Douglas had no options for tenure, Karnes said Luhrmann told her that some of Rebecca’s colleagues in the anthropology department “didn’t think well of” her and that Douglas was fired in 2014 as a means to get rid of Rebecca.
Hayward was unable to comment on the Bird case as it was an individual personnel issue.
“I guess they can pretend that they didn’t want me to go but only while conceding that they nonetheless knew that I would,” Karnes wrote. “They clearly wanted me to leave.”
Contact Jacob Nierenberg at jhn2017 ‘at’ stanford.edu.