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California State University Fresno. (Photo: fresnostate.edu)

State Will Audit CSU System’s Handling of Sexual Harassment Investigations

‘The need for the audit is self-evident’

By Katy Grimes, June 27, 2022 12:51 pm

California Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) got approval Monday from the Joint Legislative Audit Committee for an independent investigation of the California State University system’s handling of severe sexual harassment allegations and Title IX violations at three of the state universities.

The audit request comes in response to numerous allegations of harassment and Title IX violations at Fresno State, San Jose State and Sonoma State Universities, involving high-level administrators.

If approved, the audit would include investigations of the following: Office of the Chancellor, Fresno State, San Jose State and Sonoma State. The investigation would begin upon completion of the CSU’s ongoing internal investigation or four months from the date of audit approval – whichever comes first.

“How did we get to this place?” Assemblyman Patterson asked in a post-committee press conference.

Patterson said the three universities spent more time and effort protecting the “system,” rather than the victims. “The CSU system protects itself. Their policies reward bad behavior,” Patterson said.

How bad is this bad behavior?

Fresno State: According to USA today which broke the original story in February, the university’s former vice president of student affairs, Frank Lamas, was the subject of at least 12 complaints of sexual harassment in a six-year period from 2014 to 2019.

The accusations against Lamas included Lamas staring at women’s breasts, touching women inappropriately, making sexist remarks, and berating, belittling and retaliating against employees, according to USA Today.

Compounding the problems, then-Fresno State University President (who was made CSU Chancellor in 2020 overseeing all 23 CSU campuses) Joseph Castro mishandled the sexual harassment allegations, stonewalled, and  “never formally disciplined Lamas.”  USA today reported that the sexual harassment allegations began during Lamas’ first week in the position.

USA Today also reported that “Castro personally received at least seven” of the complaints and that he “never formally disciplined Lamas.”

According to Assemblyman Patterson, instead of being fired and charged, Lamas was given a golden handshake. MSN reported Lamas received a letter of recommendation and $260,000, approved by Castro, as well as “retreat rights,” allowing him to return to a tenured faculty position after giving up tenure to take the administrative job.

Castro announced his resignation as CSU Chancellor February 17th over his handling of sexual harassment, bullying and retaliation accusations against a top administrator while he was president of Fresno State, Yahoo News reported.

San Jose State:  The San Jose State University sexual harassment cases started in 2009, exposing additional student-athletes to harm for over a decade by Director of Sports Medicine Scott Shaw, NBC News reported. SJSU so mishandled these sexual harassment allegations, the FBI was brought in to investigate. “Federal investigators also found the university retaliated against two employees, including one who repeatedly alerted school officials about the trainer. Female swimmers said he subjected them to repeated, unwelcome sexual touching of their breasts, groins, buttocks and pubic areas during treatment in the campus training facilities, federal prosecutors said.”

San Jose State University agreed to pay $1.6 million to 13 female student-athletes. There were 23 student-athletes sexually harassed by Shaw but only 13 accepted to receive settlement of $125,000 each.

Assemblyman Patterson said the total settlement was $3.3 million with 15 former student athletes.

Sonoma State: Then-Provost Lisa Vollendorf alleged she faced retaliation from Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki, her boss, after she reported sexual harassment accusations about Sakaki’s husband, lobbyist Patrick McCallum to the CSU general counsel, Yahoo reported.

“Vollendorf said she told the general counsel in December 2018 that three women — two of them campus employees — alleged McCallum talked about his sex life, ran his fingers through one woman’s hair and then made ‘inappropriate personal comments’ about her appearance during a party at his house, according to settlement records that the provost’s attorney filed with system officials.”

“The women, who reported the accusations to Vollendorf because they worked for her or knew her, described the behavior as ‘creepy,’ ‘disgusting’ and ‘pervy,’ the records said.”

Sakaki signed a settlement agreement with Vollendorf in January in which CSU agreed to pay Vollendorf $600,000.

“The need for the audit is self-evident,” Assemblyman Patterson said during the press conference. “My hope is the CSU system is looking at this and is embarrassed and horrified. The system brought embarrassment to Fresno State (Patterson’s alma mater). We’re going to get to the bottom of it. And if they (CSU) don’t fix it themselves, the California Legislature will.”

Patterson noted that the slowness of the investigations and inability to get to the perpetrators and see what they had done and separate them from the universities was outrageous. And he said in the private sector investigations would have been swift and decisive, and irrevocable, with no right to continue.

Assemblyman Patterson is a co-author of the audit request.

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