A professor of Biology at Stanford was charged with felony domestic violence.
Last year, Hunter Fraser, a tenured professor in the Stanford Biology department, was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence. In July 2022, Fraser allegedly violently assaulted a woman, breaking two of her ribs in front of a child at his home on the Stanford campus. He still runs his lab, supervises graduate students, has teaching privileges, chairs the Biology graduate admissions committee, and has full access to university facilities.
Shortly after the Daily first published the story in October 2022, the Chair of the Biology department sent a perfunctory email to the Biology graduate student community dismissing the criminal charge and alleged assault as a “personal matter.” The email stated that the University was previously “aware of the incident” before the publication of the Daily article but that it would not comment on an “external legal matter.”
On several different occasions in the following months, students shared their fears in a variety of public and private forums regarding Fraser’s continued presence and dissatisfaction about both the lack of action being taken as well as the lack of transparency regarding the department’s handling of the situation. They were met with dismissal.
Fraser was among the faculty explicitly named in the ASSU resolution asking University administrators to fire and remove honors from faculty reported to have committed acts of sexual violence.
At the Biology department town hall held in October 2022, when a student expressed their concerns about feeling unsafe due to Fraser’s continued presence in the department and being kept in the dark about the situation, Martha Cyert, the department chair, again reiterated that the domestic violence charge and the alleged domestic violence was a personal matter.
At two separate graduate student cohort meetings held earlier this year to discuss affordability, students again brought up the issue of Fraser’s continued presence. In response, two faculty members present at the meetings expressed support for their colleague, with one dismissing the felony domestic violence charge as a “terrible accusation” and another vouching for Fraser as a longtime colleague, saying he couldn’t believe Fraser would do such a thing.
In brief, the department indicated that they did not intend to take any action to address their students’ concerns with regard to this matter or the larger general issue of faculty who have been accused of abuse.
In response, a petition calling on the Biology department to take action to protect its students and their right to a safe learning environment was circulated and has garnered 286 signatures. This includes hundreds of current Stanford students, alumni, and faculty and staff.
The petition asked the department to clarify existing processes to respond in the case of a faculty member coming under criminal investigation for violent crimes or other abuses, or, in the absence of any such processes, establish a procedure to safeguard student well-being and ensure their continued access to a safe learning environment.
The specific measures suggested included: placing the accused faculty member immediately on leave and relieving them of any teaching duties pending the resolution of the criminal process or an independent Stanford investigation; providing support to the accused faculty member’s trainees in the interim by giving them access to another mentor; informing the community; and soliciting reports and conducting a review of all reports past and present about the accused faculty member’s professional misconduct, including any troubling behaviors towards trainees that would otherwise have been swept under the rug as individual isolated incidents.