Reactions to Castro’s mishandling of sexual harassment complaints

Former Fresno State President and current CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro delivers a speech at Fresno State on Feb. 8, 2018. (The Collegian Archive)

On Feb. 3, USA Today released an investigative story that led to many reactions from those in the Fresno State community, criticizing California State University (CSU) chancellor Joseph Castro’s neglect of multiple sexual harassment complaints. 

According to the article, the former Fresno State president was aware of  “accusations of wide-ranging misconduct” over six years by former Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Frank Lamas, but Castro never formally disciplined him. 

Instead, after incriminating internal investigations on Lamas were later made by Fresno State, Castro reached a settlement agreement with Lamas for him to leave, giving Lamas $260,000 and full retirement benefits, the article states.

In its investigations, USA Today found that at least 12 complaints were made regarding Lamas’ behavior “including that he stared at women’s breasts, touched women inappropriately, made sexist remarks, and berated, belittled and retaliated against employees.” 

Kathryn Forbes, department chair for women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said there was prevalent hypocrisy in Fresno State’s messaging with its focus on inclusion but lack of solutions for sexual harassment victims.

“The university has a symbolically robust equity and inclusion narrative but an ineffectual, perhaps even counterproductive, investigatory system,” Forbes said in a statement to The Collegian. 

She also emphasized that Lamas’ case focused on “who matter[s] more,” and was “appalled” that men and women with less power suffered while Lamas was rewarded. Forbes said the university has not learned from its mistakes as multiple Title IX complaints remained unresolved. 

President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval offered a statement in an email to Fresno State employees, condemning Lamas’ actions.

“The conduct by Dr. Lamas was unacceptable and inexcusable,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. “Hence, it remains the university’s responsibility to ensure a safe and respectful working environment for every member of our community – without fear of retaliation.”

Lamas denies all allegations and said his employment with Fresno State ended because of people “with an obvious ax to grind,” according to USA Today. 

Castro also came out with a statement, apologizing for his actions and calling Lamas’ actions inexcusable in an email to Fresno State.

“To be clear, I recognize for survivors that the Title IX process can be one that is difficult, and I deeply respect their decisions either way,” Castro said. “The bottom line is nothing excuses Dr. Lamas’ behavior, and I’m sorry for those who experienced it.”

Castro stated in the email that he acted in 2019 when an “actionable” Title IX complaint was made against Lamas, but complaints of Lamas’ behavior were brought up to Castro, the Fresno State human resources department and the Title IX office beginning in 2016, according to the USA Today article.

Fresno State students shared their distrust for Castro and said the university has had a reputation for mishandling sensitive cases.

“Survivors of sexual assault at Fresno State have publicly said the university does not support them. The situation involving Dr. Lamas is a symptom. In my opinion, Dr. Castro should step down as chancellor,” Daniel Waterhouse, a Fresno State graduate student, said.

Waterhouse said he heard about sexual harassment allegations against an administrator in a local podcast that called Castro out in 2019. He said he found out the administrator was Lamas after he was placed on leave.

Emmanuel Agraz-Torres, a student majoring in sociology, said Fresno State’s “negligence” when dealing with Lamas calls for the community to speak up and unite against sexual misconduct.

“The community of Fresno State and all CSUs must not hesitate to mobilize and join in solidarity with those affected… Sexual harassment reaches beyond those affected and should not be treated as an individual issue, but as a community issue,” Agraz-Torres said.  

Forbes said the chancellor’s statement Thursday was “utter nonsense.” 

She said men and women had to leave their jobs because they were targeted by Lamas and does not believe Castro when he said the termination process was complex because of a “liability.”  

“It is clear that the administrators cited in the [USA Today] article and the staff offices that do their bidding are concerned with the appearance of compliance with the law rather than substantive fidelity to its tenets,” Forbes said. 

According to the USA Today article, one former employee resigned due to Lamas’ harassment and another left the student affairs division to “escape retaliation for reporting Lamas’ behavior.”

As of today, Feb. 4, Sen. Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) released a statement calling for an investigation by the CSU Board of Trustees against Castro. 

If the allegations are accurate, Leyva, who is also the chair of California’s Senate Education Committee, asks that Castro “immediately resign[s] from his position since it would call into clear question his ability to lead the California State University system and its thousands of employees.”

Members of the Fresno State community are also organizing a protest on the Fresno State campus on Saturday, Feb. 5, against sexual abuse at the university. 

Written by Jannah Geraldo and Manuel Hernandez.

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