Students call for termination of professor Vincent Barletta following Daily investigation

Oct. 27, 2022, 12:13 a.m.

This story contains references to sexual violence. 

The Daily is withholding specific dates, instead using general timeframes, to protect the identities of our sources.

Student leaders are calling for the termination of tenured associate professor Vincent Barletta amid renewed outrage surrounding Stanford’s handling of sexual misconduct. 

Barletta, who has faced at least three Title IX cases since the early 2010s, is currently on a year-long leave to pursue research related to his 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship. A graduate student who worked with Barletta in Stanford’s Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages (DLCL) said that the leave is unrelated to The Daily’s investigation and was planned as early as the fall of last year. The student requested anonymity for fear of retaliation within the department.

Last week, the Undergraduate Senate (UGS) unanimously passed a resolution calling on the University to fire and revoke honors from Barletta and other professors who have allegations of sexual or domestic violence against them. Student activists called for Barletta’s termination at a recent protest organized by Sexual Violence Free Stanford (SVFree). They have also taken to the doors of Pigott Hall, where some DLCL offices, including Barletta’s, are located, posting signs against what they see as Stanford’s failure to address sexual violence among faculty.

Barletta, who is a professor of Comparative Literature and Iberian and Latin American Cultures, did not respond to a request for comment. 

In the early 2010s, University officials determined that Barletta had violated Stanford’s sexual harassment policy after he kissed his advisee and “blurred the lines of a professional and overly personal advisor-advisee relationship” with her. 

Despite the case outcome, the University allowed Barletta to continue teaching and formally advising graduate students. Several years later, he faced another Title IX complaint from a different female graduate student. In this case, Barletta was not found to have violated Stanford’s sexual harassment policy, though University officials concluded that his behavior towards the student — which she described to Title IX officials as “predatorial” — was “of a personal and intimate nature.”   

While tenure grants professors the right not to be dismissed, avenues still exist for the University to terminate tenured faculty members who violate Stanford’s policies. According to Stanford’s Faculty Handbook, the Provost has the power to charge a tenured faculty member with professional misconduct, which includes sexual harassment and could ultimately lead to their dismissal.

When Barletta was up for tenure, his process was delayed due to a different Title IX case against him. He was ultimately awarded tenure in 2012. 

The University declined to comment on community demands for Barletta’s termination or explain the legal constraints, if any, that would prevent his dismissal.

Sofia Scarlat ’24, the co-director of the ASSU Sexual Violence Prevention Committee and co-leader of SVFree, described the University’s response to Barletta as one example of a broader trend in Stanford’s mishandling of faculty sexual misconduct.

“You could be walking into your classroom and be face to face with someone who’s committed sexual assault, and you would never know, because Stanford is never going to tell you, and they’re never going to take action,” Scarlat said. 

University spokesperson Dee Mostofi characterized claims that Stanford “does not address issues of sexual violence by individuals within our community, including faculty, students and staff” as “grossly inaccurate.”

Barletta led a research seminar this past summer for undergraduate students who came to Stanford from the City University of New York (CUNY) as part of an academic exchange program. 

Some CUNY professors — including English professor Seo-Young Chu M.A. ’01, who was sexually abused by professor Jay Fliegelman when she was a Ph.D. student at Stanford — have expressed outrage and concern that Barletta was allowed to interact with their students. Participants were given the choice to opt-out of his seminar in the aftermath of The Daily’s investigation. 

Tania Flores, a fourth-year Ph.D. student in Iberian and Latin American Cultures (ILAC) and the ILAC graduate student representative, described the current atmosphere in the DLCL as “strained.” She said that while many students have been urging DLCL faculty to take action to prevent further sexual misconduct, their concerns about Barletta’s return to the department have not received a substantive response from DLCL leadership.

The current chair of the DLCL, Professor of German Kathryn Starkey, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Comparative literature professor David Palumbo-Liu said that “a disappointing number” of faculty within the DLCL have shown apathy in the aftermath of The Daily’s reporting on Barletta, which he said has been discussed in internal faculty conversations. 

“Most people don’t care,” he said. “They don’t say they don’t care, they say their hands are tied. But that to me is saying you don’t care because if you care, you try every other avenue, including getting other people involved and creating multiple pressure points and ways of changing the situation.” 

Outcry regarding the University’s response to sexual violence was sparked in part by a recently reported rape on campus, which followed a similar report on Aug. 9. The University has since temporarily increased campus security. 

But some student activists say that Stanford’s security response suggests an attempt by administrators to insulate the University’s campus from outside threats, while the administration turns a blind eye to preventing misconduct perpetrated by people, including faculty, who have designated responsibilities and spaces within the University.  

“We are missing the elephant in the room, which is, how are we going to address these assaults within the faculty ranks in our community?” said Graduate Student Council (GSC) Co-Chair Emily Schell, a fifth-year Ph.D. student in Development and Psychological Sciences. 

Schell described the issue of faculty sexual midconduct as a particularly acute concern for graduate students, given the power dynamics at work within the advisor-advisee relationship. Several graduate students in the DLCL told The Daily that Barletta’s behavior had caused them to redirect their academic trajectories. 

“This is not about one person’s career. This is about all of our careers,” said Jon Tadmor, a first-year Ph.D. student in Comparative Literature who learned about the allegations against Barletta from The Daily’s reporting before he arrived at Stanford. 

According to Schell, the GSC is working on a resolution related to sexual violence, in part to encourage the Faculty Senate to talk about the University’s response to Barletta’s behavior.

The University has not publicly acknowledged the allegations against Barletta. 

Georgia Rosenberg is the Vol. 261 executive editor for print. She was previously a Vol. 260 news managing editor and a Vol. 258/259 desk editor for university news. Contact her at grosenberg 'at' stanforddaily.com!Grace Carroll is the Vol. 261 magazine editor. She was previously a news desk editor. Contact her at gcarroll 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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