CSU to Discuss Outside Probe of Chancellor’s Handling of Harassment Case

LONG BEACH (CNS) – The Board of Trustees of the Long Beach-based California State University system will hold a closed-door meeting next week to discuss policies related to sexual harassment policies, following questions about how now-CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro handled complaints against an administrator while he was president of Fresno State University.

Board Chair Lillian Kimbell called the meeting last Friday, one day after USA Today published a lengthy report questioning a 2020 settlement agreement Castro helped broker with then-Fresno State Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Frank Lamas.

According to the USA Today report, as many as a dozen harassment complaints were made against Lamas over a six-year period, including allegations that he stared at women’s breasts, touched women inappropriately, made sexist remarks and would berate and retaliate against employees.

Despite the allegations, no action was taken against him until a 2019 complaint that Lamas had allegedly offered to promote a female employee in return for sexual favors, the paper reported.

That complaint prompted a university investigation that found the allegation to be credible. And it led to the 2020 settlement agreement, in which Lamas received a $260,000 payment and left the university with a glowing letter of reference from Castro, according to the report.

The report has prompted several state legislators to request an independent investigation into the handling of the case. Sen. Connie Leyva, D- Chino, said if a probe corroborates the details of Lamas’ case, Castro should resign as chancellor.

Such an investigation is expected to be a topic during the closed-door Feb. 17 CSU Board of Trustees meeting.

Kimbell said in a statement last week she planned to ask the board “in the coming days” to support an independent probe, “as I know it will help us improve practices and policies for the future.”

Kimbell’s letter calling for the meeting said only that the agenda would include “executive personnel matters.” CSU spokesman Mike Uhlenkamp told City News Service the Feb. 17 meeting was called “to review CSU’s policies related to harassment,” while referencing Kimbell’s statement last week about requesting an investigation into the Lamas matter.

Castro also said last week he supports an outside investigation.

“While I followed CSU policy and took the steps to ensure this individual could never work on a CSU campus, I recognize that certain aspects of the process should have been handled better — this is especially true of the hurt caused by my communications to the community during that time,” Castro said in a statement.

“My expectation is that an independent investigation will not only help me in my growth as a leader, but also strengthen the work of the entire Cal State system.”

In a letter sent to the CSU community last week, Castro said the main goal of the settlement agreement was to remove Lamas from the campus community.

But he said he regretted writing Lamas a letter of reference.

In his Friday letter, Castro insisted the university “acted immediately” when the complaint was filed.

“To protect the campus community, he was removed from campus within four days,” Castro wrote. “We then entered into settlement negotiations for two fundamental reasons: to permanently separate Dr. Lamas from campus as quickly as possible — without a prolonged legal fight — and to bar him

permanently from future employment at Fresno State or any CSU campus.

“As part of the settlement agreement, which was mediated by a respected retired federal judge, I was required to provide Dr. Lamas with a letter of reference. I did so, and included language mentioning the progress the campus had made on student success and outcomes during his tenure. In hindsight, while my motives were to expedite Dr. Lamas’ permanent removal from the CSU, I regret agreeing to this aspect of the settlement, knowing that it caused additional pain.”

Castro apologized for “any additional hurt and understandable frustration brought about by aspects of the mediated settlement agreement.”

“I want you — the entire Cal State community — to know that your health, safety and well-being are my first priority,” he wrote. “This includes fostering and sustaining an environment free from sexual harassment and all other forms of sexual misconduct. And it also means respectfully and intentionally holding space for all those affected by this behavior.”

 He noted that the CSU has begun a systemwide review of Title IX compliance.

“But of course, we must do so much more — to strengthen our survivor support services; to sharpen the tools we have to quickly and effectively respond to incidents that occur; and to appropriately address legal, administrative and procedural barriers that can impede action,” he wrote.

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