Sonoma State University president resigns amid sexual harassment scandal that’s rocked the school

Sonoma State University president steps down
  • Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki announced her resignation on Monday amid a sexual harassment and retaliation scandal that was covered in an investigative report from the Los Angeles Times April.
  • “Serving as Sonoma State President has truly been an honor. After thoughtful reflection and discussions with my family, I made the decision to step away as president of this wonderful campus,” Sakaki, the second woman elected as Sonoma State’s president in 2016 and the first Japanese American woman to serve as a university president in the country, said in a statement.
  • Sakaki shared her intent to resign almost a month after 173 faculty members voted for "no confidence" and 105 faculty members voted against “no confidence” in her leadership amid the scandal involving her and her husband, Patrick McCallum.
  • Senators Bill Dodd (D, Napa-3) and Mike McGuire (D, CA-2), who urged Sakaki to step down last month following the voting results, acknowledged her decision in a joint statement on Monday.

Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki has announced her resignation amid a sexual harassment and retaliation scandal.

Sakaki shared her intent to resign on Monday, almost a month after 173 faculty members voted for “no confidence” and 105 faculty members voted against “no confidence” in her leadership amid a scandal involving her and her husband, Patrick McCallum. Her resignation would take effect on July 31.

Serving as Sonoma State President has truly been an honor. After thoughtful reflection and discussions with my family, I made the decision to step away as president of this wonderful campus,” Sakaki, the second woman to be elected as Sonoma State’s president and the first Japanese American woman to serve as a university president in the country, said in a statement.

I care deeply about Sonoma State and believe this choice will allow the campus community to move forward in a timely manner,” she added. “I am incredibly grateful to the entire SSU and the North Bay communities for the opportunity to serve during such a challenging and transformative time at Sonoma State.”

State senators Bill Dodd (D, Napa-3) and Mike McGuire (D, CA-2), who urged Sakaki to step down last month following the voting results, acknowledged her decision in a joint statement on Monday.

In the statement, they said her decision would “allow the Sonoma State community to start the healing process and return its focus to the university’s core mission — its students.”

There remain deep cultural challenges within the Cal State system and change is long overdue,” they continued. “There have been too many circumstances where women have been harassed, intimidated and retaliated against. We implore the incoming chancellor to make this glaring issue their top priority and advance change that we can all believe in and reestablish trust.”

Sakaki, who was named President of the Year by the California State Student Association in 2017, worked in various administrative positions in the California State University (CSU) and the University of California systems for 40 years before being appointed as president of Sonoma State University in 2016.

The scandal that rocked the university

Sakaki faced scrutiny after the Los Angeles Times published an investigative piece in April detailing how the university paid $600,000 to settle a claim with former Sonoma State Provost Lisa Vollendorf after allegations were reported to CSU system officials.

Vollendorf said three women, two of whom were university employees, claimed in December 2018 that they were sexually harassed by McCallum. Although he is not a CSU employee, he is a higher education lobbyist and an official university volunteer who was active in campus events with Sakaki.

The women, who either worked for Vollendorf or knew her, reportedly told her about the alleged incidents and described McCallum’s behavior as “creepy,” “disgusting” and “pervy.” 

McCallum was accused of talking about his personal sex life, running his fingers through one of the women’s hair and making “inappropriate personal comments” about her looks during an event in his and Sakaki’s home.

The woman claimed that she initially told a Title IX officer from the chancellor’s office about the incident, but she realized that she could face retaliation if she ever pushed forward with a formal investigation.

The woman, whose name was not revealed, eventually reported the incident to the CSU Title IX officer in 2019 after she was excluded from several faculty dinners hosted by Sakaki and her husband, which were events she would normally be invited to, according to the Times.

She said she saw this as retaliation, but she decided to step back after the CSU shut down its campuses amid the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Gordon McDougall, a former Sonoma State interim vice president who directed Sonoma State’s University Advancement Division, told the Times that there were “complaints of inappropriate touching and comments” that the female employees “felt uncomfortable.”

I noticed there was a lot of discomfort about working with him,” McDougall said, noting that he became aware of the accusations against McCallum from female employees, who felt “pretty universal” about him. 

I didn’t get into very deep conversations about what happened,” McDougall added. “I was very uncomfortable.”

Vollendorf claimed she faced retaliation from Sakaki, who was her boss, after she reported the incidents to top officials at the chancellor’s office, according to case records.

Sakaki denied the accusations made against her and her husband in previous statements to the Times. She also denied that she retaliated against Vollendorf, saying the accusations “are utterly without basis.”

In addition to the allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation, another report from the Los Angeles Times noted that Sakaki chose not to discipline one of Sonoma State’s vice presidents for student affairs after an investigation that found he engaged in inappropriate touching and directed sexual comments at female employees at another CSU campus.

 

Featured Image via Stepheng3 (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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