LONG BEACH — The 19 trustees who oversee the California State University system’s 23 campuses spent Tuesday and Wednesday discussing running the nation’s largest four-year public university system.
And while administrators focused on education policy, finance and construction projects, the meeting showcased a public university system of more than $7 billion a year with leadership in transition as it faces deep institutional challenges.
Controversies surrounding three college presidents in the CSU system — Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki was not one of them — drew protesters and scathing comments from the public. CSU officers provided heavy security around the CSU Chancellor’s gleaming waterfront office building near the mouth of the Los Angeles River.
Faculty representatives from all 23 campuses also presented a vote of no confidence to administrators over their handling of the resignation of former system chancellor Joseph Castro after a sexual harassment scandal.
But Sakaki’s case was not on the board’s agenda, or at least any public part of it, even though she has come under fire for more than six weeks for her handling of harassment allegations. sex with her husband.
Although the no-confidence resolution targeted the board’s handling of Castro, the allegations against Sakaki and her husband were “definitely on our minds,” said Robert Collins, a professor at San Francisco State University and outgoing president of the CSU Academic Senate, he said.
Sonoma State’s problems were “kind of a canary in a coal mine that there is a vast problem,” Collins told The Press Democrat after his remarks to the board.
“Mistrust and low morale remain due to recent scandals,” Collins said in his remarks to directors.
“Female colleagues always find accountability lacking in the Title IX process,” he said, referring to CSU procedures for investigating incidents of gender discrimination and sexual assault.
Castro resigned in mid-February amid outrage over a USA Today investigation that found he mishandled findings that a then vice president of student affairs had sexually harassed a subordinate. He left, however, with a severance package of $400,000 and a position as an advisor to the board of directors.
Subsequent scandals, including the events in Sonoma State, further eroded trust in the chancellor’s office and the board of directors.
On April 13, The Press Democrat reported that the CSU paid $600,000 in January to settle a former provost’s harassment complaint. Lisa Vollendorf claimed that Sakaki retaliated against her after she reported allegations of harassment by several Sonoma State employees against Patrick McCallum, Sakaki’s husband.
Sakaki denied retaliating against Vollendorf, and McCallum denied engaging in sexual harassment. Sakaki also denies retaliating against Kevin Wenrick, former general manager of SSU’s Green Music Center.
Wenrick told The Press Democrat he alerted Sakaki to his female colleagues’ concerns about McCallum’s behavior and said he believed it could have led to his dismissal soon after.
“Dr. Sakaki would never retaliate against anyone for raising workplace issues,” his spokesman Larry Kamer said in a previous statement in response to Wenrick’s allegation.
“She has made it clear that she abhors discrimination based on race, gender, ethnicity or sexual preference,” he said. “His entire professional life has been dedicated to creating opportunities for members of underrepresented communities.”
Sakaki kept a low profile, avoiding major campus events like the May 21 graduation and refusing press interview requests.
The allegations by Sakaki and others throughout the system have led to a collapse of trust in the system, one of its own administrators told The Press Democrat.
“We are in a moment of crisis,” said Krystal Raynes, who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom two years ago when she was 21 at CSU Bakersfield.
Raynes cited Title IX proceedings and “a loss of faith” in administrators at remote California campuses as among the causes of the crisis, alongside low salaries for faculty and university staff amid the rising cost of education. life in California.
Trustees and the new acting chancellor say they are facing criticism. “Reform in several areas is critical to the success of the system, and we are taking action,” Lilian Kimbell, who served as chairman of the board until recently, said in a statement to The Press Democrat. Since Wednesday, the council is now chaired by Wenda Fong.
CSU’s new acting chancellor, Jolene Koester, appointed by the board, said restoring trust in the office was her main goal.