After Cal State chancellor’s resignation, calls for an investigation intensify
A day after the California State University chancellor announced his sudden resignation, calls intensified Friday for an independent investigation into his handling of allegations of sexual harassment and bullying by a former top assistant.
Chancellor Joseph I. Castro’s resignation was announced late Thursday after a daylong closed-door session by the Cal State Board of Trustees, who were meeting to determine whether to launch an independent investigation of Castro’s response to the allegations.
The trustees instead agreed to pursue a review of how Title IX cases involving sexual and gender harassment are handled across the 23-campus system, rather than investigate whether Castro mishandled the investigations while he was president of Fresno State.
Two former trustees told The Times on Friday that they were not informed of the allegations when they voted to hire Castro and that current trustees have an obligation to find out what went wrong and how the process can be improved.
Former trustee Silas Abrego said a public, wide-ranging investigation should be launched to uncover details about the controversial settlement that Castro approved with former Fresno State Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Lamas and determine why the board was not alerted.
“Somebody should have informed the board before it made a decision” on hiring Castro, Abrego said.
Peter J. Taylor, a former trustee who heads the ECMC Foundation, which promotes college and career success for underserved students, also confirmed that he and his board colleagues were not notified — but should have been.
“Information about [the] Lamas matter was not shared with the board, and now this news is upsetting to me and no doubt my colleagues,” he said.
Complaints of bullying and sexual harassment against Lamas started in 2014, but the university did not investigate until 2019, when a female employee filed a formal Title IX complaint, according to Cal State officials and internal reports obtained by The Times.
The woman reported that Lamas touched her knee and moved his hand up her thigh while discussing job prospects in a car, an incident she said occurred after at least two years of other unwelcome contact.
Lamas has denied any wrongdoing and has maintained that he received positive evaluations under Castro.
Castro said he agreed to the settlement with Lamas after consulting with Cal State attorneys and then-Chancellor Timothy P. White. The agreement allowed Lamas to quietly retire with a $260,000 payout, retirement benefits and a glowing letter of recommendation.
Three weeks later, trustees announced Castro as the new chancellor of the nation’s largest public four-year university system.
Castro told The Times that he did not tell trustees about the investigation and settlement during the chancellor search, believing that White would have relayed the information if he deemed it necessary.
On Friday, Assemblymember Jose Medina (D-Riverside) and state Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), who chair their respective higher education committees, called on the Cal State trustees to press forward with an investigation into what happened at Fresno State and present their findings during a joint legislative hearing.
“I think that Chancellor Castro stepping down is certainly a step in the right direction towards transparency and accountability,” Medina said, adding that the trustees need to “continue to investigate what happened and why things went wrong.”
Leyva said the secret settlement and Castro’s promotion to chancellor underscore major problems with gender parity in the Cal State system and society at large — all of which need to be corrected.
“At the end of the day, the chancellor walked away with a new job and a pay increase, Lamas walked away with a letter of recommendation,” and a payout, Leyva said. “And what did the women who brought the allegations forward receive? Nothing. No justice for them. So how do we fix things for women going forward?”
In interviews with The Times, several Cal State presidents also expressed frustration with the Lamas settlement.
Cal State East Bay President Cathy Sandeen said she and other women in the university system were angered by Castro’s handling of the sexual misconduct and workplace allegations.
A “number of women leaders within the Cal State system contacted me and expressed feelings of disillusionment, futility and outrage that he seemed to be excusing what he had done,” she said.
Castro told The Times that he had to wait for a formal Title IX complaint — one with a named complainant — to be filed before he could launch an investigation of Lamas.
But Sandeen said the duty to report does not hinge on a formal complaint.
“It’s mandatory reporting, and the notion that you have to wait for a formal complaint is not correct,” she said.
Cal State Fullerton President Framroze Virjee said that the existing investigative policies can work if they are implemented correctly.
“I believe our Title IX policies and procedures at the California State University are strong and provide structure and mechanisms if they are complied with,” he said.
Cal State Stanislaus President Ellen Junn said that an understanding of the law is key.
“It’s not necessarily the laws, the statute and processes — it’s how people implement them. We have trust in our leaders to do the right thing,” she said.
The union that represents more than 29,000 Cal State faculty on Friday echoed calls for an investigation.
“The resignation of the chancellor is not enough,” the California Faculty Assn. wrote in a statement. “Only a public, open, and independent investigation by the state legislature can produce impartial results, which can lead to the systemic changes we need to see.”
The trustees announced Thursday that an external investigation into Cal State’s handling of Title IX procedures, starting with Fresno State, will begin in March.
Fresno State professor Kathryn Forbes, who spent six years as a union steward representing faculty in Title IX cases, said the system is broken and in need of a comprehensive review.
At Fresno State, not all complaints lodged with officials are investigated, and there is no transparency regarding the standard of evidence that administrators use in determining which cases they will pursue, according to Forbes.
Cases can also take years to resolve, she said, which is a disservice to victims.
“It could take so long that the resolution is meaningless,” said Forbes, who chairs the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at Fresno State.
Lynn Bowes Sperry, a professor of management at Cal State East Bay, said she believes that an ethical violation had been crossed well before any Title IX law.
Put simply, she said: “They let a potential lawsuit trump every other aspect of humanity, and that should not be happening.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.