CSU halts program that paid millions to departed executives

California State University will halt a program for newly hired employees that has paid millions to executives who have resigned in recent years — including former Chancellor Joseph I. Castro — until the Board of Trustees reviews a task force’s recommendations.

The move Tuesday by the trustees follows a Times investigation that reported the system has paid more than $4 million to 11 top executives since 2015 with little accountability. Two of those executives, Castro and former San Jose State President Mary Papazian, left their posts under a cloud of scrutiny over their mishandling of sexual misconduct allegations.

Former Chancellor Timothy P. White is also benefitting from the program, receiving an annual salary of $327,744 for two years until the end of this year and a $24,000 car allowance during the period. White authorized a quiet settlement that allowed a former Fresno State vice president to leave with $260,000, retirement benefits and a glowing letter of recommendation amid allegations of sexual harassment and workplace bullying, records show. Castro, while president of Fresno State, had hired the vice president and was forced to resign over how he handled alleged wrongdoing by the top administrator.

“It is important to acknowledge that we are learning and that we hold ourselves accountable, and authentic accountability includes reform,” Board Chair Lillian Kimbell said.

The discussion followed a tense public comment session, during which faculty, staff, students and others shared frustration over a breakdown in Title IX procedures and what was described as “sweetheart” deals for top officials who resigned under scrutiny.

The board’s announcement comes weeks after Castro abruptly resigned following outcry last month over his handling of sexual harassment and workplace bullying allegations against former Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Lamas.

Upon his resignation, Castro received more than $400,000 and a six-month housing allowance through the executive transition program, according to documents reviewed by The Times. The program has been in effect since 1981 and has undergone at least two state audits.

The task force review will be presented to the board in May, Kimbell said.

The board, as previously reported, also directed the CSU to examine its policy on retreat rights, which allows executives to become faculty members when they resign from their top positions, and its policy on issuing letters of recommendations.

Both policies were recently scrutinized in the context of the settlement Castro made with Lamas on behalf of the CSU. Officials said that because Lamas had retreat rights, the only way to completely sever him from the university system was through a settlement. Castro also wrote a glowing letter for Lamas.

In an interview last week, Lamas said he did nothing wrong and provided emails from top Cal State officials that commended him for his work during the period he was a vice president at Fresno State.

The board also directed an independent external investigation into administrators’ response to Title IX complaints at Fresno State, which is expected to be completed within the next three to four months, and an assessment of Title IX policies at all 23 campuses.

The meeting marked the first time that trustees met in public since news about Castro’s handling of allegations, first reported by USA Today, roiled the system.

“We as a board were kept in the dark and not served well by recent events and our past chancellor,” board member Adam Day said. “We, with the facts today, are taking strong and decisive action to respond to this crisis.”

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