Fresno State partners with ASI to host a student open forum

Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval answered students' questions and concerns in open forum on March 24 at Room 118 of the North Gym Building. (Jesús Cano/The Collegian)

Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval held an open forum for students in collaboration with the Associated Students Inc. (ASI) on March 24 at Room 118 of the North Gym Building. 

It was moderated by Vice President for University Communications Lauren Nickerson, who handled in-person questions, and Betsy Hays, chair of the Media, Communications and Journalism department. In addition, ASI President D’Aungillique Jackson helped answer questions.

Fresno State students asked questions about former university president Joseph Castro mishandling Title IX cases and sexual harrassment complaints against former faculty member Frank Lamas. 

Jiménez-Sandoval said he met with the CSU Board of Trustees about an independent investigation on Castro’s case that was announced by CSU officials in March. An investigator and another national firm have been identified, he added.

“These revelations are only recent to the public. So, why didn’t Fresno State wait until it was public to handle it?” one student asked.

Jiménez-Sandoval responded that human resources (HR) confidential policies do not permit Fresno State to disclose any information to the public, even if administrators know something has happened. 

“That’s just to let you know that the issues that are happening within HR are not known to other members of the cabinet. They’re known to a few selected individuals,” Jiménez-Sandoval said.

The president also made it clear that the settlement and investigation was handled by the CSU’s Office of General Counsel, Fresno State’s CSU campus counsel and Castro. 

This led to questions of whether members of the CSU involved in Lamas’ settlement would be removed from their positions.

“That means there are multiple individuals within the CSU who are making the decisions that are happening along the process and along the way, and it is not my decision to say whether they will be removed or not,” Jiménez-Sandoval said in his response.

He also said the victims did not receive any part of the financial settlements, and he said he is not in a position to explain why because he was not involved in those processes. This led to students asking if he is a “trustworthy leader” or not. 

After 22 years working for Fresno State, Jiménez-Sandoval said it’s still important to disclose his history and make it clear to the students that he’s here to help. 

“Trust is a long-term process. I’m a new leader to you because I’m a new president, with just a little bit over a year,” he said. “I have come under situations that were not created by my own actions. I would hope that people do know that… I don’t want to brush things under the rug.”

Jackson followed the president’s remarks in his defense as well, saying he talked to her and ASI after the news first broke about Castro. She also said conversations were conducted with administrators, Student Affairs, faculty and staff. 

Jackson then talked about how sexual harrassment is a systemic problem.

“I can guarantee you that this is the man who’s going to fight for us and he’s going to listen to what we have to say and implement those changes,” she said of Jiménez-Sandoval.

Hays read another comment questioning if other administrators under Jiménez-Sandoval’s cabinet were trustworthy, due to some of them having worked under Castro’s administration as well.

After reading the reports and paperwork, Jiménez-Sandoval said the administration “followed the protocols.” In previous open forums, he has also made it clear that he trusts the administrators currently working with him.

“Unfortunately, sometimes there are circumstances that may be personnel-related that we’re not always able to share or may not be able to share at the time,” Vice President for Administration Deborah Adishian-Astone added.

Adishian-Astone also said that any TItle IX or HR complaint filed was conducted properly and handled accordingly by certain policies and in consultation with the Office of General Counsel.

“As far as accountability and honesty and transparency, that is what occurred as this was going on as far as issues being elevated to the appropriate administrators both here on campus and at the [CSU] chancellor’s office,” Adishian-Astone said.

Hays presented another comment from the virtual audience regarding complaints students want to file, and said the viewer expressed concern  that complaints not directly related to Title IX will be ignored and neglected.

Like previous open forums, Jiménez-Sandoval made it clear that this is the purpose of the Title IX task force: to look into things beyond those cases including discrimination, harassment and retaliation (DHR). Micro and macro aggressions will also be investigated, he added.

“If there are issues, we want to know about them, and we will also resolve them. It is not only the urgent ones… we will solve every single issue that comes to our attention,” Jiménez-Sandoval said. 

Jackson said ASI’s website and the university president’s website both have anonymous forms where people can report any issues as well.

Jiménez-Sandoval said this is the first task force of its kind that is trying to create an “intersegmental or interconnected system” within the CSU that will support victims in all areas they need support in. 

“I am taking this as an opportunity for Fresno State to be the leader in this process, and I’m taking this as an opportunity for Fresno State to really lead with a system and a process that works for our people, for our community,” he said.

A question asked online and read by Hays stated that graduate students make $250 a month per class they teach.

“We have to teach more classes to afford Fresno rent, which makes it much harder to focus on our studies. This salary has not increased in at least five years,” the comment said.

Jackson noted that graduate students often receive little financial aid, and have increased difficulties in applying for grants and scholarships. Jackson said this is indicative of a “systemwide issue,” such as the Title IX case.

“We really have to take time to figure out how we’re supporting those who… go to the next level with their education,” Jackson said.

CORRECTION March 30, 2022:

In a previous version of this article, it was written, “Jackson responded that, while she was not aware of the situation, it showed the need of a dean for graduate studies. She said there has been talks about implementing the position into Fresno State.” Dean Goto is currently the Interim Dean of the Division of Research and Graduate Studies.

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