Former Stanford professor claims she was pushed out for reporting sexual harassment

Stanford University has a “we uphold rape culture” problem. Nothing — not the high-profile case of convicted sexual offender Brock Turner, or the December lawsuit accusing Stanford of acting with “deliberate indifference” toward sexual assault claims — has inspired the university to get its act together in how it handles cases of sexual harassment and assault. Former Stanford professor Michelle Karnes learned this first hand in 2012, when she filed a complaint against former dean Stephen Hinton.

In her formal complaint, Karnes accused Hinton of unwanted advances, including kissing her on the lips and proclaiming he had a crush on her and was “tormented by his feelings.” Karnes said after she made it clear she wanted no further contact, he would pop up at the gym to confront her, while claiming he wasn’t stalking her. In an interview with The Guardian, she said, “I just wanted to crawl out of my skin, I was so uncomfortable. I was really scared.”

Hinton (a more senior faculty member), hired Karnes (who was untenured at the time), and reporting his alleged sexual advances came at a grave cost, according to Karnes. Hinton denied the allegations, but the university’s investigation found that he had in fact made “unwanted sexual advances.” But there were no consequences for the esteemed music professor. In fact, Karnes feels she was the one penalized for speaking up.

Karnes’ tenure was approved in 2015, but her husband, Shane Duarte (who was hired with Karnes as a dual-career academic couple), lost his position as a philosophy lecturer. According to reports, records show Duarte consistently received high evaluations from students. Karnes offered to pass up a raise to cover a majority of her husband’s salary, but Stanford reportedly wouldn’t agree.

“They didn’t explain themselves, and we were left in the dark,” Duarte wrote in an email to The Guardian.

“It was psychologically really difficult for me,” Karnes said, noting that she struggled with depression for the first time in her life. “To have Shane used as a weapon against me was really painful.”

Even though Stanford’s attorney said she found Karnes “to be more credible” than Hinton and that Hinton had made an unwanted sexual advance, she ultimately concluded his behavior had nothing to do with his employment. Basically, she found that his behavior was not sexual harassment.

Stanford denies any claims that Duarte’s job loss was in retaliation for his wife’s complaints, but Karnes’ attorney says she was repeatedly asked to leave Stanford. Since she had already received tenure, she claims the school used her husband, who was not tenured, to force them out. Karnes claims Stanford offered her money in exchange for her silence, but she chose to speak out after seeing harassment and retaliation against several “powerless graduate students.” This mirrors the report claiming Stanford tried to buy its way out of federal Title IX investigations regarding the way the school handles sexual assault.

Karnes and Duarte now hold positions at Notre Dame University. Duarte told The Guardian, “I don’t think that the administration believes there’s a real sexual harassment problem at Stanford.”