CSU to launch investigation into former chancellor’s handling of sexual harassment complaints – San Bernardino Sun

The California State University’s Board of Trustees announced Tuesday, March 1, it will commission an independent investigation into former Chancellor Joseph Castro’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against an administrator at Fresno State when Castro was president there.

The investigation will entail an in-depth review of how Castro and other Fresno State administrators responded to complaints against former Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Frank Lamas from 2014 through 2019, the duration of Lamas’ tenure at Fresno State.

Amid the allegations of failing to properly address the complaints, first reported by USA Today, Castro resigned on Feb. 17 after less than two years as CSU’s top administrator.

“It is important that we understand how campus leaders at Fresno State responded to the workplace concerns about Dr. Frank Lamas,” CSU Board of Trustees Chair Lillian Kimbell said in a statement Tuesday. “We will investigate the past to reveal potential new facts, learn and take appropriate action.”

She said the law firm Cozen O’Connor to conduct an assessment of Title IX protocols across the 23-campus CSU system. It will begin this month at Fresno State.

“The CSU is initiating a Title IX assessment across the nation’s largest public four-year higher education system to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our students, faculty and staff,” acting CSU Chancellor Steve Relyea said in a statement Tuesday. “We will continue to fortify our commitment to be leaders of Title IX innovation and response.”

Title IX protects individuals from discrimination based on gender in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

Castro allowed Lamas to quietly retire in 2020 with a golden parachute of $260,000, retirement benefits and a glowing letter of recommendation from Castro, according to a settlement agreement with the university, signed by Lamas on Aug. 31, 2020.

CSU Fresno commissioned two administrative investigations into Lamas in November 2019. Among the findings were that Lamas, who began working at the university in 2014, fostered a hostile work environment in which he was prone to bouts of rage, yelling and belittling subordinates, slamming his hands and phones on tables and engaging in sexual harassment and misogynistic behavior.

An alleged victim of Lamas claimed he touched her on the shoulder, lower back, knee and thigh, put his arm around her, grabbed and massaged her arm and adjusted her bra strap, even after she told him she didn’t like to be touched. He often would gawk at her body parts, as well as other women’s, and tell sexually explicit stories, according to Wegner’s report.

Lamas has denied doing anything wrong. In a statement, he called the allegations against him illegitimate and false, and insisted that information he and his supporters provided during the investigations went ignored. Despite what he claimed was a positive track record at Fresno State, he decided to resign to prevent a “prolonged legal situation.”

“I agreed to a third-party mediation to resolve all disputes and claims,” Lamas said.

The Fresno State scandal prompted state Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, and Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, to demand an immediate investigation by the CSU Board of Trustees into Castro’s handling of the allegations against Lamas.

“I look forward to reviewing the findings of this investigation.,” Leyva said in a tweet Tuesday. “As Senate Education (Committee) chair, I will then assess the need to hold a hearing to delve further into what happened during Chancellor Castro’s time at Fresno State, as well as what actions may be needed moving forward.”

Before and after Castro resigned, faculty and staff at some campuses within the CSU system, including Fresno State, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Los Angeles, passed resolutions calling for an independent investigation into Castro, among other things.

Some campuses, including Cal State Fullerton, have adopted resolutions calling for a more transparent process in selecting the chancellor and university presidents, which historically has been a confidential process.

The California Faculty Association, which represents more than 29,000 tenure-line instructional faculty and staff across the CSU system, doesn’t believe a fair and impartial investigation can occur within the CSU system, and has asked the state Legislature to step in and investigate.

“We’ve been clear on that and why the Legislature must investigate versus the board commissioning an outside hire,” CFA spokesman Kody Leibowitz said in an email Tuesday.

In a letter addressed to Kimbell and the CSU Board of Trustees dated Feb. 17, the CFA said that what happened at Fresno State reflects not only a systemic problem in academia, but in society at large, “where people with real institutionalpower protect one another by covering up bad behavior.”

“This board has failed students, faculty, and staff members of the CSU system with its lack of transparency in hiring administrators who do not take allegations of sexual violence seriously. It happened at San José. It happened at Fresno State,” according to the CFA’s letter to the board.

The CFA’s reference to San Jose stemmed from a similar sexual abuse scandal that rocked San Jose State University last year, forcing the resignation of university President Mary Papazian in October. Papazian was accused of failing to properly respond to more than a dozen allegations of sexual abuse by Scott Shaw, the university’s former director of sports medicine.

The Board of Trustees also announced Tuesday that CSU has revised its practices allowing administrators to retreat to faculty positions, and that the Chancellor’s Office is preparing to issue a policy that will bring “systemwide consistency to a process that has historically been addressed individually by each of the CSU’s 23 campuses.”

The policy gives the administrator the option to return to a faculty position when their administrative role at the university comes to an end, according to the Chancellor’s Office news release.

Initially, the Board of Trustees felt that, since Castro resigned, time was better spent on the comprehensive Title IX assessment rather than an independent investigation into Castro, said Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the Chancellor’s Office.

He said a confluence of factors, including demands from Leyva, Medina, and various academic senates within the CSU system for an independent investigation into Castro, as well as publicity surrounding the allegations, likely prompted the board to reconsider.

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