December 19, 2016

Ex-Stanford professor: I was pushed out after reporting sexual harassment

Stephen Hinton wouldn’t leave her alone. After Michelle Karnes politely rejected the Stanford professor and former dean, according to her complaint, he didn’t back down.

It was July 2012, and he allegedly told Karnes, then an untenured professor, that he had a “crush” on her and was “tormented” by his feelings. She said she made clear she didn’t want further contact. But Hinton – a powerful faculty member who had hired her – allegedly continued to confront her at the gym, telling her he wasn’t “stalking”, but wanted to talk.

“I just wanted to crawl out of my skin, I was so uncomfortable,” Karnes, 42, said in an interview. “I was really scared.”

A university investigation of Karnes’ sexual harassment complaint concluded that Hinton, who is 20 years older, had made an “unwanted sexual advance”, but it’s unclear if the professor faced any consequences. On the contrary, Karnes says that administrators retaliated against her for speaking up and pushed her out of Stanford.

Hinton vigorously denied the allegations, claiming they had a “platonic, reciprocal relationship” and pointing out that a university investigation concluded his conduct did not constitute sexual harassment.

From Karnes’ perspective, however, the university went to great lengths to protect a senior faculty member and silence his accuser, prioritizing the institution’s reputation over her wellbeing.

Her story comes on the heels of numerous sexual misconduct controversies at Stanford, one of America’s most prestigious universities, and as women in academia across the US have increasingly spoken up about assault, harassment and discrimination.

Karnes’ story boosts the claims of Stanford students and faculty who argue that the institution has policies and a broader culture that systematically fail to acknowledge the problem, leading administrators to punish victims while not holding perpetrators accountable...

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