CSU handling of sexual harassment allegations an ‘embarrassment,’ legislator says

·4 min read
CRAIG KOHLRUSS/Fresno Bee file

The state Joint Legislative Audit Committee on Monday approved an investigation into the handling of sexual harassment allegations by the California State University and three of its campuses including Fresno State. Assemblymember Jim Patterson, a Republican from Fresno, supported the decision, calling the episodes an “embarrassment” to students, staff and alumni.

Former CSU chancellor Joseph I. Castro resigned in February while under fire for his handling of sexual harassment allegations while president at Fresno State, sending a vice president who had been the subject of a Title IX investigation into retirement with a $260,000 settlement and a promise of a letter of recommendation.

San Jose State recently agreed to a $3.3 million settlement with 15 student-athletes who allegedly were sexually harassed by a longtime athletics trainer, and the CSU paid a $600,000 settlement to the former provost at Sonoma State after failing to investigate sexual harassment claims.

“These are three serious examples and one way or another all of them sooner or later ended up on the chancellor’s desk at the highest level,” Patterson said. “I just have such a hard time accepting that this is the kind of process and this is the kind of outcome that the California State University system has in dealing with some of these things that are very egregious, that hurt students and faculty and staff and besmirched the reputation of the California State University system.

“How did we get to circumstances like this? That’s what we want to find out and we want to find out their recommendations on how to fix this to make sure that it’s not about the parachute they get or the $260,000 that they get or the retreat rights that they get. It’s about adequate, significant, fair determination of the facts and then swift, clear decisions to separate and to say, ‘this was activity that we just cannot condone. You’re out. We don’t want you here.’ Instead, look at what has happened. It has dragged on and on and some of these things are an embarrassment to the students and staff and to alums like me.”

Patterson was one of 43 state legislators who co-signed the audit request. Committee chairman Assemblymember Rudy Salas, a Democrat from Bakersfield, and Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, a Democrat from Fresno, also signed the request.

The audit is estimated to require 2,990 hours and cost $403,650 plus travel and administrative expenses, according to an Analysis of Audit Request by acting California State Auditor Michael S. Tilden.

It is to begin after the CSU system completes its own investigation or four months from the date the legislative audit committee approved the request. The CSU investigation, led by Los Angeles-based attorney Mary Lee Wegner, is expected to be completed in July. It will be presented to the CSU board of trustees.

Audit to include review of CSU’s Title IX office

The state audit will review the system-wide Title IX office, its mission and efforts to coordinate and provide consistency and oversight to the CSU’s response to sexual harassment allegations, and compliance with federal regulations and best practices. It will also include a review of the structure of the Title IX investigatory process and identify who in the system can interfere, determine whether changes can be made to prevent any interference, and whether university policies and procedures are adequate to prevent, detect and address sexual harassment allegations.

It also will review employment agreements and the golden handshakes for former administrators, who departed with settlements, letters of recommendations and retreat rights. Castro himself moved into a one-year CSU executive transition program with a $401,364 salary and retreat rights to Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business in San Luis Obispo.

The request did not include a target date for completion of the audit.

“I’m going to reserve a final judgment for when I see the audit, but I have a sense that the problems we are seeing in these three institutions are part of what is going on in the chancellor’s office at the highest level,” Patterson said. “When a process for example like Fresno State can essentially be signed off, encouraged, approved, and no one said, ‘wait a minute, this vice president did it, and we have to terminate and we have to discipline.’ And, as it went up the chain of command, the chancellor’s office essentially I believe signed off on a process that they already knew and understood was going to come to them this way.

“That’s why I’ve concluded that the system protects itself. The system is wary of really getting to the bottom of this and because this education institution sometimes creates guidelines and rules and expectations, is setting itself up for these kinds of embarrassments.”

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