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Investigation Finds Former Cal State Chancellor Had a ‘Blind Spot’ for an Abusive Colleague


As president of California State College at Fresno, Joseph I. Castro failed to scrupulously deal with complaints {that a} vice chairman he had personally recruited was sexually harassing, bullying, and retaliating in opposition to individuals who labored below him, in response to an investigative report launched on Thursday by a Los Angeles employment lawyer, Mary Lee Wegner.

The report, commissioned by the California State College Board of Trustees, is the primary of three that can examine how complaints about sexual misconduct have been dealt with throughout the 23-campus system. This one focuses squarely on the Fresno campus, and the way its former president, who went on to change into the system’s chancellor, responded to complaints a few shut colleague and subordinate.

From 2014 to 2019, the campus acquired 9 complaints about Frank Lamas, Fresno’s vice chairman for scholar affairs, the report says. The primary formal Title IX criticism got here in 2019, when one in every of Lamas’s staff accused him of touching her inappropriately and implying that she’d get a promotion in trade for sexual favors. Fresno acted on every criticism, however the responses weren’t at all times efficient, and the alleged abuses continued, the report says.

“Campus directors liable for responding to studies [of harassment] had good intentions, though their lack of expertise and/or heavy workloads in some situations, together with poor documentation, lack of awareness, and different components, resulted in much less aggressive and efficient responses to studies till the October 2019 criticism,” Wegner wrote in her report.

“Specifically, the president’s failure to extra rigorously deal with studies of Lamas’s alleged misconduct as they surfaced was a notable issue that negatively impacted the effectiveness of the campus’s responses to such studies,” she added. As an alternative of taking important steps to rein Lamas in, Castro “supported Lamas all through his employment even within the face of a number of allegations, rising proof, and, in the end, confirmed findings of Lamas’s alleged misconduct,” the report says.

Castro “supported Lamas all through his employment even within the face of a number of allegations, rising proof, and, in the end, confirmed findings of Lamas’s alleged misconduct.

By mid-2016, the report says, Castro knew Lamas had been repeatedly accused of inappropriate conduct, however he simply endorsed him orally, persuaded him to attend office coaching, and had home windows put in in Lamas’s workplace and division. From 2016 to 2019, Castro really useful Lamas at the least eight occasions for presidential positions within the Cal State system and elsewhere.

In a written assertion to The Chronicle, Castro stated his selections on Title IX issues had been guided by campus and university-system insurance policies and protocols, together with the course of the then chancellor, Timothy P. White, and the final counsel, Andrew Jones. White didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark, and a Cal State spokesperson stated the interim chancellor could be talking for the system.

The interim chancellor, Jolene Koester, issued a assertion on Thursday saying the report would assist Cal State “study from the previous” and “stop such points from occurring sooner or later.”

Castro stated he additionally had relied on recommendation from campus legal professionals and coverage specialists at Cal State-Fresno and within the chancellor’s workplace. “I’ve served for over 32 years in each the College of California and California State College programs, and I earned a popularity for my dedication to the success of scholars, school, and employees,” he wrote, including that he disagreed with some features of the report.

The report “leaves out any reference to the recommendation I acquired from campus or system counsel. They have been concerned in serving to me work out how one can take care of this matter from starting to finish.”

In an interview with The Chronicle shortly after the report’s launch, Castro stated he was disenchanted that it “leaves out any reference to the recommendation I acquired from campus or system counsel.”

“They have been concerned in serving to me work out how one can take care of this matter from starting to finish,” he stated.

The report additionally doesn’t point out the numerous circumstances throughout the system through which directors accused of misconduct have been allowed to retreat to school positions, he stated. The issues in Title IX enforcement, he stated, are systemic in nature, and he had hoped to stay as chancellor to assist deal with them. As an alternative, he stated, he was pressured to resign, earlier than an investigation may happen.

Two coverage reforms he proposed on his final day as chancellor have been to ban any administrator who violates a Title IX coverage from retreating to a school place, Castro stated. He additionally wished to ban letters of reference for any worker who violates a Title IX coverage. Each reforms have been authorised, however too late, he stated, to assist him keep away from a few of the most contentious features of the settlement with Lamas.

A Query of Self-discipline

Castro was named chancellor of the California State College system, the nation’s largest system of public four-year universities, in September 2020. After simply over a yr within the job, he resigned below stress in February, throughout a contentious, 10-hour Board of Trustees assembly known as to debate Castro’s dealing with of sexual-harassment and bullying complaints in opposition to Lamas.

On the time, Castro was accused of going simple on his former vice chairman regardless of understanding about at the least seven complaints within the six years main as much as Lamas’s departure. These complaints, which included allegations that Lamas stared at ladies’s breasts, touched ladies inappropriately, made sexist remarks, and berated and retaliated in opposition to staff, got here to gentle publicly, in an investigation printed by USA At the moment in February.

In 2020, Lamas was discovered liable for sexually harassing an worker and creating an abusive work setting. However as an alternative of being formally disciplined or fired, he was paid to go away quietly. Underneath a settlement signed with Castro, Lamas acquired a $260,000 payout, retirement advantages, and the promise of a job advice. Lamas had solely to agree that he’d by no means once more work for a Cal State campus, however with a report that included no public acknowledgment of wrongdoing, he was free to maneuver elsewhere.

Lamas has denied wrongdoing and stated he persistently acquired constructive opinions from Castro. He accused investigators of ignoring these opinions, in addition to supportive feedback from colleagues.

The report concludes that the $260,000 settlement, which White authorised, was justified, given the specter of litigation, the worth of Lamas’s school “retreat” rights, and the advantages of getting him gone.

Wegner’s report concludes that Castro ought to have acted sooner, and extra forcefully, to self-discipline Lamas. As an alternative, he continued to assist him. That continued after the settlement, “to the extent he supplied a really constructive retirement announcement and advice letter for Lamas that have been inappropriate given the circumstances,” the report says. “Briefly, the proof reviewed displays a blind spot the president had about Lamas that negatively influenced his response to Lamas’s conduct and execution of parts of the settlement.”

Castro stated the letter of advice was stipulated within the settlement settlement negotiated by the college’s legal professionals and signed by White, the then chancellor. He additionally stated he hadn’t handled Lamas any otherwise than another shut colleague.

Castro has stated that, till somebody filed a proper criticism, in 2019, his palms have been tied.

Title IX specialists have disputed that declare, saying that, even within the absence of a criticism, schools and universities can interview colleagues and college students to seek out out whether or not they’re conscious of reported conduct.

It’s not stunning that formal complaints weren’t filed, the report says. “Initially, staff didn’t report Lamas’s alleged misconduct (or in the event that they did, refused to file complaints that required use of their names) as a result of they feared retaliation,” the report notes. “Lamas’s intimidating demeanor and feedback about what occurs to individuals after they complain about their bosses, together with the narrative he created about being good buddies with the president, created a tradition of worry that silenced staff.”

In media studies, Castro has stated that he regrets nominating Lamas for a lifetime achievement award, in 2017, in addition to the presidency of one other Cal State campus, in 2018. He additionally has stated he needs he had included details about the casual complaints he’d realized of in Lamas’s efficiency evaluations.

Three weeks after the settlement with Lamas, Castro was named chancellor of the Cal State system. Board members stated he hadn’t talked about the take care of Lamas when he was being thought-about for the job.

After his compelled resignation, Castro acquired practically $450,000 in a settlement that included a one-year stint as an adviser to the system’s board. After February 2023, below an settlement signed when he turned chancellor, he’ll have the choice to change into a tenured professor of management and public coverage at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, one of many system’s campuses. He stated on Thursday that he’d notified the campus that he seemed ahead to educating there.

Castro’s resignation shocked and disenchanted those that noticed him as a champion for Hispanic and different underrepresented college students in larger schooling. He started his educational profession as a first-generation faculty scholar.

The report launched on Thursday relies on one in every of three deliberate investigations. The chancellor’s workplace employed a legislation agency to conduct a systemwide evaluation of how all Cal State campuses, in addition to the chancellor’s workplace, deal with Title IX circumstances. The evaluation isn’t anticipated to be completed earlier than the primary quarter of subsequent yr. California lawmakers additionally known as for the state auditor to conduct a evaluation. It’s anticipated someday subsequent yr.

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