Editorial: Is Cal State’s chancellor fit to lead the nation’s largest public university system?

Cal State Chancellor Joseph I. Castro
(California State University)

Allegations that California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro mishandled multiple complaints of sexual harassment against an administrator he hired while president of Fresno State are so serious that they deserve a comprehensive and independent investigation. And if the details of a recent USA Today report turn out to be correct, the Cal State Board of Trustees needs to do more than consider policy changes. It must decide whether Castro, who has been chancellor since January 2021, is trustworthy enough to lead the largest four-year public university system in the United States.

According to the newspaper’s account, Castro and his administration received at least a dozen informal complaints about the behavior of his handpicked vice president of student affairs, Frank Lamas, beginning within weeks of his hiring in 2014. Those complaints included staring at women’s breasts, making frequent inappropriate sexual comments, berating and humiliating staff in public and engaging in a pattern of retaliation. Many of the complaints were later corroborated by a 2016 review by an outside consultant commissioned by the university to examine the department’s operations.

Yet it would be three more years before Fresno State investigated Lamas himself, again hiring an outside consultant, and that came only after a female member of Lamas’ staff filed a formal complaint against him alleging ongoing sexual comments and unwanted touching. She also claimed Lamas implied that she would get a sought-after job in exchange for sexual favors. That investigation supported her harassment claims and found a pattern of deeply troubling behavior.


Chancellor Joseph I. Castro approved a quiet $260,000 payout to administrator Frank Lamas, who was accused of sexual misconduct, according to documents and officials.

Yet Castro never disciplined Lamas with so much as a letter in his file, according to the USA Today report. Castro claims he lectured Lamas on his behavior but was moving carefully to avoid a lawsuit, and that he didn’t want to fire Lamas because the student affairs director might be able to return to Cal State as a professor under the terms of his contract. Lamas has denied any wrongdoing during his six years at Fresno State.

What’s particularly troubling is that Castro repeatedly praised Lamas in front of other employees, lauded him in performance reviews, endorsed him for a prestigious award and agreed to a retirement package with a sterling letter of recommendation — even though he knew about at least some of the complaints. Why didn’t Castro work out a settlement agreement that allowed him to tell the truth in a letter of recommendation, or not to write a letter at all?

Students, staff and the community also were kept in the dark about what had been happening at the Fresno campus. Worse, the Cal State Board of Trustees wasn’t informed about the issue when it was vetting applicants for the chancellor’s job.

These aren’t little oversights, to be publicly regretted only after the deed is discovered. It is long past the time when colleges could get away with sweeping serious allegations of sexual misconduct under the rug. And Castro’s apparent failure to realize that calls his judgment into question.

CSU’s board Chair Lillian Kimbell initially released a statement in support of Castro — a troubling act considering that no inquiry into the matter had been undertaken — but then, as pressure from lawmakers mounted, she announced plans this month to ask the trustees to open an investigation into the matter. Kimbell said in a statement that she was sure this would help “improve practices and policies for the future.”

Of course they must investigate — and do so objectively, independently and transparently. If the investigation backs up what has been reported, it will require action beyond improved policies. The students, staff and public deserve a serious and open discussion about whether Castro has the integrity and good judgment to continue in the job.