Editorial: The resignation of Cal State’s chancellor is the right way forward
The trustees and chancellor of California State University did what appears to be the right thing on Thursday by agreeing that Chancellor Joseph I. Castro should leave after a little more than a year on the job.
Castro’s resignation came after disturbing reports surfaced that as president of Fresno State, he failed to take reasonable measures to deal with allegations of sexual harassment against his hand-picked director of student affairs, Frank Lamas. What’s more, Castro failed to act even after allegations of abusive behavior were supported by a university-commissioned study in 2016.
This raised legitimate questions about Castro’s fitness as the leader of the nation’s largest four-year university system, and the fierce protests by students and faculty would have made it difficult for him to continue in this role.
Editorial: Is Cal State’s chancellor fit to lead the nation’s largest public university system?
California State University must investigate allegations that Chancellor Joseph Castro ignored sexual harassment complaints against an administrator.
Exactly what happened in the board meeting Thursday that led to Castro’s resignation has not been made public. But given the statement by Chairwoman Lillian Kimbell afterward, it appears that the trustees might have been urging Castro to leave. What we hope they did not do is what Castro did for Lamas: negotiate a goodbye package with a golden handshake, a glowing recommendation and a clean personnel record.
Of course, no one is accusing Castro of being an abuser, and it is a shame to see his many years of service and accomplishment at California public colleges come to an abrupt and ugly halt. But the complaints, first reported by USA Today, against Lamas, who has denied wrongdoing, were fairly recent, beginning years after activists first called out universities for negating or diminishing complaints of sexual misbehavior. Castro knew better, or certainly should have.
The trustees were never told about the Lamas situation while considering Castro for the job. They certainly should learn from this situation that a thorough vetting of candidates for CSU chancellor is an absolute requirement, including talking with faculty and staff at those candidates’ current jobs.
The board announced Thursday that it would be launching an extensive look at the university system’s operations when it comes to these kinds of matters. This has to include the dealings of the board itself. It’s troubling to read the first statement by Kimbell after the news about the mishandling of the allegations concerning Lamas came to light. She voiced support for Castro, offered mealy-mouthed words about how complex sexual misconduct cases are and suggested that Castro would be staying on and initiating a study of how the university can better handle complaints.
It was the wrong reaction, downplaying the seriousness of the situation. Problems like this cannot be swept under the rug — not just those involving sexual harassment, but any serious misconduct. If academic institutions want to hold on to their reputations as fearless discoverers of the truth, they must be willing to do the same when those truths reflect uncomfortably on themselves.
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