State to investigate CSU sexual harassment scandals

State lawmakers on Monday ordered an independent investigation into how complaints of sexual harassment and retaliation are handled by California State University, which has been rocked by scandals that sparked public outcry and led to the resignation senior system officials.

The investigation will be led by the state auditor and will focus on the chancellor’s office and three campuses, but the review could expand depending on what is uncovered.

In calling for the audit, members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee cited Los Angeles Times investigations that found inconsistencies in how complaints of sexual harassment and staff retaliation are reviewed in the 23-campus system. and detailed millions of dollars in payouts to senior executives, some of whom quit amid sexual harassment controversies.

The audit comes as the nation’s largest four-year public university system struggles with how it handles complaints under Title IX, a law that protects people from gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment. in educational institutions that receive federal funding.

Acting Chancellor Jolene Koester acknowledged last week that CSU had “failed in our efforts to ensure that our campuses are safe and welcoming environments … free from discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct.”

Koester noted in his system-wide message, sent on the 50th anniversary of Title IX, that Cal State had hired a private law firm to conduct a review of Title IX. But state lawmakers have said an independent investigation is needed to ensure the findings are free from bias and potential conflict.

“The system is protecting itself,” Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) said. “I am much more [trusting] independent audit processes and people from the California State Auditor’s Office than me from a law firm that has a history of dealings with CSU and the Chancellor’s Office.

He said state auditors will focus on Sonoma State, Fresno State, and San Jose State because they have all been slow to properly investigate Title IX cases and penalize authors, which represents a “genuine systemic failure”.

The audit, estimated to cost around $400,000, will be launched within four months and will also examine golden handshakes, executive payments and policies on letters of recommendation for departing campus officials. under supervision and the role of the Chancellor’s office in handling cases.

A state audit is a “necessary first step in rebuilding public trust in CSU,” said Assemblyman Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), who chairs the committee. “It is unacceptable that the largest public four-year university system in this country has such widespread sexual harassment allegations and payments.”

Recent Times investigations have revealed discrepancies in how CSU investigates Title IX and sexual harassment cases for students and faculty. In one case, in Sonoma State, the system paid $600,000 for a provost’s claim that the president retaliated against her after she reported sexual harassment allegations against the president’s husband. which have never been formally investigated. President Judy Sakaki announced her resignation from the university.

In another case, a vice president who moved from the Channel Islands to Sonoma State faced no disciplinary action after allegations of misconduct were substantiated. And recently, in the state of San Diego, allegations that five members of the football team raped a minor went uninvestigated for more than eight months. The campus said it delayed the investigation at the request of police who are conducting a criminal investigation.

Former Chancellor Joseph I. Castro resigned in February following an outcry over his handling of a sexual misconduct case when he was Fresno State President. In 2020, Castro approved a $260,000 payout, a retirement package, and a strong letter of recommendation for a vice president accused of misconduct and intimidation. A few weeks later, Castro became system chancellor.

Castro previously told The Times that he was advised by former chancellor, Timothy P. White, who authorized the settlement.

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