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The CSU is inconsistent with allegations of sexual harassment

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The CSU is inconsistent with allegations of sexual harassment

All four were high-ranking people on various campuses at California State University – three were vice presidents for student affairs.

Each was accused of indecently touching women and making unwanted sexual comments. And each case was treated differently.

Two of the accused were allowed to continue their work during the investigation, and the third was sent on vacation. Two campuses hired outside firms to investigate, another transferred the investigation to another campus. In the fourth case, no formal investigation was even conducted.

Hundreds of pages of investigation reports, settlement documents, and other records published by The Times, as well as interviews with experts and former university officials who have overseen such cases, underscore the inconsistent manner in which the University of California system investigates and resolves sexual complaints. across its 23 campuses.

Officials at the country’s largest four-year system of public universities say they have detailed policies on sexual harassment and adhere to education codes and employment agreements during investigations, but acknowledge that they provide little additional written advice in important areas such as initiating investigations. measures. measures to be considered when allegations are substantiated.

In four cases reviewed by The Times, one man was accused of hugging for a long time and asked a woman what underwear she wore; another allegedly caressed a woman’s thigh during a university event; and the third was accused of raising his hand on the hips of another employee, talking to her about employment opportunities.

In two cases where misconduct was found to be “severe, persistent, or widespread,” one university that had previously provided its administrator with management training prior to any investigation allowed him retire with a lucrative payment and a letter of recommendation; the second allowed his administrator to resign on probation and paid leave before his departure.

“It’s worrying. There should be more precise standards, ”said Lori Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School. “You don’t want each campus to create its own approach.”

Providing more precise instructions would help ensure a more consistent and fair process for all participants, including students, said Sharon Reuters, a former assistant to Cal Poly Pomona’s vice president who oversaw the investigation into sexual harassment before retiring in 2020.

“They really need leadership to be consistent,” she said.

Title IX experts recognized that investigators must take into account the specific circumstances of each charge and that subjectivity will always play a role in deciding how to handle each case. But, according to them, there should be some consistency in when investigations are launched, who conducts these investigations and what measures are taken to confirm violations.

“It is important that the policy is as clear as possible,” said Shivali Patel, director of the Justice Department for Surviving Students and a senior lawyer at the National Center for Women’s Law.

California officials said they are not tracking cases of sexual harassment and revenge across the system or taxpayer money that has been paid to settle legal claims and lawsuits. But news and records released by the CSU show that over the past three years, the university system has paid nearly $ 7 million to deal with sexual harassment and revenge.

The CSU hired an outside firm for this consider as Title IX cases related to sexual and gender harassment handled by campuses, following recent controversies that have shaken top management. Joseph I. Castro resigned as Chancellor in February amid resonances over his treatment of sexual harassment and allegations of bullying by a high-ranking Fresno official when he was campus president.

A formal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against the son of the president of Sonoma, a lobbyist who was considered an official university volunteer, has not been launched.

(Alice Archerda / Sonoma University)

The scandal also shook Sonoma’s campus after allegations of sexual harassment against President Judy Sakaki’s husband, lobbyist Patrick McCallum, who was considered an official university volunteer.

This year, the state of California paid $ 600,000 to settle the claim Former vice-chancellor Lisa Wolendorf, who claimed that Sakaki, her boss, had retaliated against officials in the office that several women had accused McCallum of unwanted touching and sexual comments.

Calculation documents show that the women claimed that McCallum talked about his sex life, intimately ran his fingers through one woman’s hair, and then made “inappropriate personal comments” about her appearance during a party at his home. Sakaki and McCallum who have since parted ways after the Times investigation detailing the calculation, refused to satisfy the claims.

The Chancellor’s office said the Section IX officer decided not to launch a formal investigation because the women were reluctant to continue an investigation that would require statements with their names. Sakaki spoke to her husband after learning of the allegations, but no further action was taken, the CSU said.

Two state senators have urged Sakaki to resign after a vote of no confidence in her leadership of teachers.

Documents obtained by The Times under the state’s Open Records Act show that the charges at the other three campuses were treated quite differently.

William Gregory Sawyer was a respected leader on campus in the Channel Islands of California. Known to many students as “Doc,” he was the vice president and founder of the campus for student affairs.

But shortly after Sawyer was appointed to the same position in Sonoma State in early 2018, his former campus began investigating allegations of sexual harassment after the woman filed complaints.

The Channel Islands have hired an outside firm to investigate. Sawyer was on medical leave for some time during the investigation, but was otherwise allowed to return to work on the Sanoma campus, records show.

Witnesses say the behavior crosses professional boundaries. One woman said Sawyer once dropped a Victoria’s Secret catalog on the table and, referring to a page showing lingerie, asked if she wore such lingerie, records show.

Sawyer denied sexual harassment of women and inappropriate behavior. In an email to a Times reporter, he called the allegations “baseless” but declined to comment further on the complaints.

The investigation concluded that Sawyer behaved inappropriately with two women on campus, including unwanted hugs, called one “arrogant”, “spicy” and “cheeky” and looked at her in a way that she perceived as sexy, the records show. .

After reviewing the findings of the investigation, records show, officials in the Channel Islands found that Sawyer’s behavior was unprofessional, but not sexual harassment, because “did not reach such a serious and widespread level.”

Sawyer received no discipline. Sakaki reported his expectations from him, a campus spokesman said, but did not require him to take corrective action, such as advising or training executives.

In Chicago, records show the officer claimed that in 2019, Milton Lang, then vice president of student affairs, touched her thigh twice at a university event. He put his hand on her jeans and stroked her thigh with his thumb. After she put her hand on her thigh so he wouldn’t touch her again, she said he put his hand on her.

The next day, Lang apologized to the woman for “hitting her knee,” the woman told investigators, “a comment she believes was an attempt to protect herself, according to records.” Lang disputed the claim that the touch was not accidental. The woman said she was “shocked” at the time of the incident and later said she no longer felt safe on campus, fearing Lang would take revenge on her.

The investigation was conducted by staff from the University of Sacramento, records show. Lang was allowed to stay and work. He did not control the woman and did not frequently interact with her on campus, a Chicago state spokesman said.

The investigation found the woman trustworthy, noting that immediately after that she talked about the incident with other people. The investigator found that Lang sexually harassed the woman in violation of CSU policies. Lang was placed on paid administrative leave for three months after the investigation. He agreed to resign with a payment of more than $ 42,000.

Lang did not respond to requests for comment.

In the state of Fresno, allegations of misconduct against Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Lamas have been gone for years, according to records released by the university. After receiving anonymous allegations of bullying and inappropriate comments from 2014 to 2016, Castro, the then-campus president, did not launch an investigation, but instead instructed Lamas to train with a outside consultant that involves harassment and discrimination against the workforce. The results of the survey commissioned by the university did not name Lamas, but referred to a hostile work environment and sexist comments in the student affairs department before the start of the study.

Photo of the building

Fresno State has launched an investigation in 2019 into allegations of sexual harassment against a senior administrator after years of anonymous statements.

(Kirby Lee / Associated Press)

In October 2019, the woman filed a formal complaint alleging that Lamas touched her knee and raised his hand up her thigh in the car, talking to her about job prospects, records show. She said the incident happened after at least two years of unwanted encounters that included touching her shoulder, straightening her bra strap, grabbing her arm, touching her lower back and clasping her arm, even after she asked him not to touch her.

Castro immediately sent Lamas on leave, while the university ordered an investigation by a third-party firm, which concluded that the allegations were credible. In an interview with The Times, Lamas challenged the findings and sent emails from officials who praised his work.

In 2020, Castro is calm allowed the payment to the lamas of $ 260,000 along with a retirement package and a bright letter of recommendation. A few weeks later, Castro became Chancellor of the CSU. He told The Times that he was advised by former Chancellor Timothy P. White, who sanctioned a secret deal with the lamas.

Assembly member Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), who chairs the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and is among dozens of state lawmakers calling for an independent audit of the CSU’s handling of sexual harassment, told The Times that he was concerned about various approaches on campuses. accepted similar charges. According to him, the way CSU officials investigate complaints “smells of inconsistencies and prejudices.”

“That’s why we want an independent auditor to come in and not only identify inconsistencies,” he said, “but also make recommendations on policies and procedures to ensure consistency. [and] responsibility ”.

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