CSU chancellor slammed over sexual misconduct allegations

During his final weeks as Fresno State President, Chancellor Joseph I. Castro of California State University authorized a $260,000 payout and a retirement package with a glowing letter of recommendation for a campus vice president after an investigation found ‘credible evidence’ the administrator engaged in sexual misconduct against an employee, according to public documents and university officials.

In the 2019 lawsuit, the employee alleged that Fresno State Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Lamas touched her knee and put his hand on her thigh in a car while talking to her about the employment prospects after at least two years of further adverse contact. A university investigation found the allegations to be credible, including reports that he touched her shoulder while adjusting her bra strap, grabbed her arm and massaged her biceps, touched her lower back near her buttocks and put her arm around herself even after she asked him not to. to touch her.

The subsequent 2020 severance deal with Lamas, whom Castro hired, drew criticism from professors and others. The Cal State teachers’ union on Thursday asked the board to investigate Castro’s handling of misconduct complaints and his prior knowledge of workplace harassment while serving at Fresno State. .

The outcry comes after a detailed USA Today report detailed allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct against Lamas over a six-year period from 2014, when Castro oversaw the university.

The deal barred Lamas from working on a California state campus again, but the letter of recommendation — in which Castro enthusiastically praised Lamas’ accomplishments — could be used for future jobs at other universities or elsewhere, according to academic papers and Castro.

“It’s a problem with the culture in academia. Administrators are more interested in protecting other administrators and allowing them to save face, rather than doing what’s best for students and their well-being. the California Faculty Assn. said in a statement.

Lamas has denied any wrongdoing during his six years in Fresno State.

“I elected to retire from Fresno State on December 31, 2020. I received an outstanding letter of reference from my supervisor, then-President Joseph Castro, and positive reviews each year I was at the university,” he said. “Given what was said about me initially after my first two years at Fresno State, I thought about leaving or moving to the faculty given my appointment to the faculty of education. However, I was convinced to stay by my supervisor, President Castro. We hoped that the things said about my personal character would end. I had never experienced such things.”

A timeline of the allegations against Lamas, along with Castro’s investigative report and letter of recommendation, were shared with The Times by the Chancellor’s office.

Although complaints about Lamas began the year he was hired in 2014, the university launched an investigation into his behavior after an employee filed a formal Title IX complaint in October 2019, alleging he created a sexually hostile and abusive – including non-consensual – work environment. touch – for her and others. Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex in any educational institution that receives federal funding.

The Fresno State investigation examined whether Lamas violated a California state system-wide policy known as Executive Order 1096, which prohibits discrimination, harassment, retaliation and sexual misconduct, including other behaviors. The report concluded that Lamas’ endorsements by co-workers describing his positive behavior at work “were offset by other credible evidence” that his behavior toward the woman who had filed the complaint was inappropriate. She was not identified in the report.

The report said “the sexual overtones of his comments and some of the touching, and the significant power disparity” between Lamas and the woman created an environment in which she “genuinely and reasonably felt so offensive that she had to quit a job she (and others) said she loved”.

He concluded that the “preponderance of evidence” supported the conclusion that Lamas’ “inappropriate behavior violated both the spirit and the letter” of university policy.

In an interview with The Times, Castro confirmed that the investigation resulted in a “mediated settlement” in August 2020 between the university and Lamas that included payment, a retirement package and the letter. Castro said the deal did not allow him to say why Lamas left in the letter of recommendation.

He said he regretted writing the letter and would not do it again. In the letter, he praised Lamas saying, “The student experience at Fresno State will be forever enhanced by the bold leadership of Dr. Lamas…Frank is a seasoned administrator who places students, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, to the fore. of his thought. …”

Castro said he agreed to the settlement — with counsel to do so by then-Chancellor Timothy P. White — to ensure Lamas would leave the university without litigation and to protect students and the staff against other problems.

“I regret any harm that has been caused by Dr. Lamas’ actions,” Castro said.

Others have criticized Castro’s silence, comparing his behavior to that of other institutions that have remained silent about sexual abuse, effectively protecting perpetrators rather than survivors.

“They’re trying to make sure he’s taken care of, but how does that feel for the victims here?” Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, spoke about the settlement with Lamas. “The message they send is that you can get away with this behavior. It is so important that the school management sends the message that this is something they take seriously. And it looks like they really missed the mark.

Three weeks after the settlement was reached, the board named Castro chancellor of the 23-campus system.

Castro did not discuss the investigation or settlement with the board during the 2020 search process that led to his nomination to lead the nation’s largest four-year college system, he said. Administrators are not always aware of the settlements, he said, and he believed at the time that Chancellor White would inform them of the Lamas case if he deemed it appropriate to do so.

“I have followed all CSU policies and practices throughout this situation and have ensured that we act accordingly to protect our students and staff,” Castro said. “The letter of recommendation was part of our mediated settlement and in retrospect I wish I hadn’t and in the future I wouldn’t agree to something like this.”

Castro said he briefed the board on the investigation Wednesday, ahead of USA Today’s report. Board chair Lillian Kimbell maintained her support for the chancellor.

“Dr. Castro’s background and deep support for Title IX is clear. As Fresno State President, he acted in accordance with CSU policy in this matter and used the management tools at his disposal. readiness to deal with the situation,” she said in a statement.

Castro said that before the investigation he advised Lamas to make “adjustments” to his behavior after being made aware of the initial allegations against him.

The first complaint was filed in September 2014 by an employee who alleged that Lamas questioned him about his sexual orientation, according to the timeline provided by the Chancellor’s office. In 2015, a student complained about Lamas but refused to press charges against him, fearing reprisals. In May 2016, Lamas’ colleagues raised concerns about the climate in the student affairs department. A 2016 review commissioned by the university revealed concerns about “abusive or unprofessional behavior in student affairs, including references to a hostile work environment…and sexist and other inappropriate comments,” the report said. ‘investigation. Lamas was not directly named in the survey’s comments, but he was later told to undergo training on proper workplace behavior.

Fresno State Vice President of Administration and Finance Deborah Adishian-Astone told The Times that prior to the official complaint in 2019, accusations had been made anonymously or by employees who did not did not want to participate in a survey. If an allegation of physical abuse or touching had been made, Adishian-Astone said a university investigation would have been launched with or without a direct link. and identified accuser.

Adishian-Astone also said Lamas was not fired from college outright because of “retirement rights” in his management contract. This provision, as negotiated at hiring, gives employees the right to become faculty members if they are fired from their leadership positions. Fresno State said the only way to permanently sever ties with Lamas was through settlement.

The policy was updated in the spring of 2021 for new hires and removed from hiring negotiations.

California State Student Association. President Isaac Alferos said the topic will likely be discussed at the organization’s board meeting next week. Title IX reform is already something the organization is working to improve.

Patel, the attorney, said Cal State leaders must ensure they properly educate students, staff and faculty about their Title IX rights, including the right not to do the object of retaliation. It’s also important, she said, that Cal State assess the extent of the work climate across the system and “really listen” to students and employees about it.

Castro said he plans to work with the board to improve the university’s policies, pledging to make them more transparent.

“I will work with our board and our presidents to review this and make the appropriate adjustments,” he said.

Los Angeles Times

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