Sexual harassment audit of CSU system requested by state lawmaker – San Bernardino Sun

A state legislator has requested a sweeping audit of the California State University system’s sexual harassment policies and subsequent settlements paid to alleged harassers in the wake of a recent scandal involving former Chancellor Joseph Castro.

Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, who chairs the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said this week that 43 lawmakers have signed on in support of his request.

“The recent sexual harassment allegations involving several CSU campuses, as well as the Chancellor’s Office, is unacceptable and warrants the scrutiny and impartiality that only the State Auditor can provide,” Salas said in a statement this week. “It is unacceptable for this nation’s largest four-year public university system to have such widespread sexual harassment allegations and payouts. The discrepancy in campus-by-campus dealings and golden parachutes for top administrators reeks of inconsistencies and bias.

“Only an independent audit can help clear the way to create consistent policies that will help protect our students and faculty at our largest four year institutions.”

The audit request follows media reports of widespread sexual harassment complaints within the CSU system, particularly those involving staff and prominent administrators.

The CSU Board of Trustees supports Salas’ request, Michael Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the Chancellor’s Office, said Thursday.

“We are appreciative of our elected leaders who share the same goals of supporting CSU students and employees,” Uhlenkamp said. “Should the legislature ultimately determine that an audit of the university’s Title IX policies is necessary, the Chancellor’s Office and any campuses identified will readily participate.”

The CSU system has hired the Cozen O’Connor law firm to conduct an independent assessment of its Title IX practices across all campuses and the Chancellor’s Office. Title IX protects individuals from discrimination based on gender in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

The CSU assessment follows Castro’s resignation in February amid a firestorm of criticism for his handling of sexual harassment complaints against former Cal State Fresno administrator Frank Lamas.

Instead of thoroughly investigating multiple complaints of sexual misconduct and other questionable behavior involving Lamas, Castro, while president of Fresno State, allowed him to quietly retire. Under a settlement agreement Lamas signed on Aug. 31, 2020, he was paid $260,000 and provided a glowing letter of recommendation from Castro.

Shortly after the settlement was signed, the Board of Trustees appointed Castro to the position of chancellor of the entire CSU system.

Although no longer serving as chancellor, Castro receives a $401,000 salary and is participating in a yearlong transition program that allows him to become a professor at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he is tenured.

Shortly after Castro elected to participate in the program, CSU trustees determined they would cease granting similar transition opportunities to newly hired executives until they had reviewed recommendations from a task force, Uhlenkamp said. The trustees may review those recommendations later this month.

Emily Berquist Soule and Sabrina Alimahomed-Wilson, professors at Cal State Long Beach who have spearheaded a petition drive for an independent investigation, said Thursday they have little confidence in the trustees.

“It is only more apparent now that the CSU cannot be trusted to conduct an internal investigation of these matters without outside oversight,” the pair said in a joint statement. “How many more incidents like these — or worse — need to come to light in order for the CSU to stand up and do the right thing by protecting victims of predators instead of predators themselves?

“If the CSU truly wants to hold uphold its core values, spending taxpayer dollars to provide opportunities for individuals to develop intellectually, personally, and professionally, the system must not only promptly address incidents of sexual assault and harassment it must also work to uproot even more widespread practices of sexual and gender discrimination on our campuses.”

In addition to the Fresno State scandal, Salas noted the CSU system paid $600,000 in April to settle a claim with a Sonoma State provost who reported sexual harassment allegations and retaliation involving the campus president and her husband.

Also in 2021, San Jose State University reached a $3.3 million settlement with 15 former student athletes who reportedly were  sexually harassed by a longtime sports trainer. A federal civil rights investigation found San Jose State did not take adequate action in response to the athletes’ reports and retaliated against two employees who raised repeated concerns to the university.

Salas will formally present his request for the CSU audit to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee on June 27.

Staff Writer Joe Nelson contributed to this article. 

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