Cal State’s Board of Trustees is under fire for allowing campus leaders to ignore sexual harassment and racial discrimination complaints made by faculty and students across the 23-campus system.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, trustees heard faculty members detail racism and workplace retaliation incidents, including against an employee who alleges she was sexually assaulted on campus and ignored by campus administration.
The outrage at the board’s alleged lack of accountability and action to address the problems comes after months of reporting by various news outlets, including EdSource, that the system has seen several sexual harassment and misconduct cases involving management. The most prominent led to the resignation in February of Chancellor Joseph I. Castro amid outcries that he failed to handle sexual harassment complaints against an administrator while Castro was president of Fresno State between 2013 and 2020.
Since then, sexual harassment complaints and allegations have emerged against administrators at CSU Bakersfield, Cal Poly Humboldt, CSU Fullerton, CSU Monterey Bay, Sonoma State, Chico State and San Jose State.
And now, at CSU San Bernardino, seven-year employee Paige Griffin alleges that a co-worker sexually assaulted her and that campus President Tomas Morales and his administration failed to provide her with reasonable accommodations when she experienced trauma and anxiety following the assault.
Charges of harassment and retaliation
Griffin detailed for the trustees that in March a co-worker sexually assaulted her and “forcibly held my face against his face to where I could not pull back.” She reported the incident to the university police and used all of her vacation and sick time following the attack. But her request to work remotely or transfer to another department was denied. Griffin said she also was threatened with disciplinary action for missing work. She also has filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Griffin said the man who she said attacked her is on paid leave.
“Coming back to that space where the assault occurred, I experienced extreme fear, anxiety and nervousness,” she said. “President Morales, with all due respect, I am extremely disappointed with your lack of concern and compassion.”
A spokesperson for the San Bernardino campus said Morales and the university would not comment on any ongoing investigations. No one has been arrested in this incident, according to the spokesperson.
But other San Bernardino employees told the board they, too, faced retaliation and harassment for speaking out against poor working conditions on the campus.
Robie Madrigal, a San Bernardino communication specialist, said he’s “seen things that are not right and not just at Cal State San Bernardino,” including retaliation against employees who express concerns about unsafe working conditions, discrimination and harassment.
The California Faculty Association, which represents instructors in the CSU system, also accused the trustees of overlooking and ignoring campus leaders who have failed to address a series of sexual harassment and racial discrimination complaints. Monday, the association sent a letter to the board accusing the members of “impunity and incompetency.”
“Over the last three months, an unprecedented wave of reporting describes how the CSU system and campus administrations have failed survivors of sexual harassment and violence,” according to the letter. “The reporting reveals how the Title IX process was circumvented, overlooked, and misused, leading to a culture of leadership that lacks accountability.”
In March, the board unanimously approved a statewide review of Title IX practices across the system, a review of sexual harassment complaints at Fresno State, and launched a task force to examine separation agreements with executives. However, faculty groups continue to demand that CSU agree to an external investigation.
The association is not the only faculty group to demand more from the board. In March, the CSU Academic Senate took a no-confidence vote in the trustees for their inability “to proactively and reactively address Title IX violations, broader cases of discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation, and other forms of inappropriate behaviors by those in power within the CSU system as evidenced in their providing a sinecure to former Chancellor Castro.” The Senate referred to Castro’s faculty retreat rights to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which he has not accepted.
The board plans to address issues Wednesday that spilled over from the Castro resignation, including how it handles executive letters of recommendation, which Castro granted to Frank Lamas, the executive accused of sexual harassment, and faculty retreat rights, a provision in Castro’s contract that allowed him to fall back to a faculty position at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
On Wednesday, the Board didn’t directly address the retaliation and harassment allegations.
Allegations of anti-blackness
The faculty association also demanded the board fire Cal State LA President William Covino for how he has handled complaints of racial bias, harassment and discrimination on that campus.
Earlier this month, Cal State LA Pan-African studies professor Melina Abdullah, who is also a founder of the Black Lives Matter LA chapter, was forcibly removed by armed university police from a mayoral debate taking place on the campus. Covino said he wasn’t informed of Abdullah’s removal and apologized for the incident.
But other faculty, including Abdullah, told trustees that the incident was part of a pattern of behavior. “Bill Covino has a nine-year history of anti-blackness,” she said. For example, Abdullah said Covino attempted to eliminate graduations that celebrated ethnic and racial groups.
“If Bill Covino is enabling anti-Black racism and abuse of faculty, students and community members, how are you enabling him or holding him accountable?”
Covino said in a statement that he doesn’t dismiss the feelings and concerns some students, faculty and staff have, but he called the allegations against him “inaccurate, misleading and unsubstantiated.”
“I am listening and I welcome inclusive dialogue,” he said.
In her first trustees’ meeting since replacing Castro, interim Chancellor Jolene Koester said she’s fully aware that “change is necessary and that we must do better.” The system will take a “hard and clear-eyed look” at its processes, policies and organizational structures and make obvious and necessary changes.
“Recent events and revelations have made it clear, sometimes pretty painfully clear, that we have not always carried out our work in a matter that was true to our core values,” she said. “We must restore trust among all our constituents and stakeholders.”
EdSource reporter Thomas Peele contributed to this report.
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Jonna 9 months ago9 months ago
I am an admin at a CSU. I reported another administrator for inappropriate behavior to HR and then became the subject of shunning and bullying within my department. The person I reported about was never disciplined and I was removed from my office to a diminished role where I performed simple tasks such as making copies. It was degrading to languish at my desk with the anxiety that I might be fired or driven to … Read More
I am an admin at a CSU. I reported another administrator for inappropriate behavior to HR and then became the subject of shunning and bullying within my department. The person I reported about was never disciplined and I was removed from my office to a diminished role where I performed simple tasks such as making copies. It was degrading to languish at my desk with the anxiety that I might be fired or driven to quit because of retaliation. When I talked about applying for other positions at the CSU, I was told by my supervisor that I was on a blacklist and would never be hired. I have put in ten or so applications at other campuses and never heard back from anyone since.
There were many times where I was contemplating suicide because of the depression from being ostracized and humiliated at work. When I addressed these mental health concerns and asked for accommodations, nobody took me seriously. Instead, they told me to work it out with a psychiatrist and suggested that I quit. It was so dismissive and missing the point. The harassment went on until the pandemic forced everyone to work from home. I am still working at the CSU, but I still endure PTSD and trauma as well as financial hardships from lower pay and a tarnished reputation built on rumors from an admin who abuses his authority to do things that harm women, POC, LGBTQ and go against the values of the CSU.
The problems that arose came from reporting to HR, which is the wrong thing to do because their role is not to support the employees but to protect the University from employees. They act like they care but their goal is to see if you will do something to harm the reputation of the University.
Title IX, the legal team at the Chancellor’s Office, and HR work together to make sure Presidents and other top administrators avoid holding any accountability for any wrongdoing. This is how they work. The only way to fix this is to overhaul the reporting processes and change the entire CSU culture by firing these out of touch, cynical administrators and HR and replacing them with people who actually care about employee safety. Until this happen which will probably be never, I warn others not to make the mistake in trusting HR with allegations of misconduct and illegal activity, but to find another job or seek advice or representation from an attorney. Document everything and get emotional support from friends and family, but don’t think for a minute that administrators will help make your workplace safe from sexual harassment and discrimination. They have proven time and again that they make it worse.
Nellie 10 months ago10 months ago
Not surprisingly, this is a problem on the junior college level also. There is an uncoordinated but active campaign to turn colleges into corporations instead of institutions of higher learning. As a result, colleges and college districts are top-heavy with overpaid unnecessary senior-level administrators who cater to the chancellors and boards and lack the courage and/or moral authority to stand up to perpetrators when issues of harassment and institutional racism are reported. It is a … Read More
Not surprisingly, this is a problem on the junior college level also. There is an uncoordinated but active campaign to turn colleges into corporations instead of institutions of higher learning. As a result, colleges and college districts are top-heavy with overpaid unnecessary senior-level administrators who cater to the chancellors and boards and lack the courage and/or moral authority to stand up to perpetrators when issues of harassment and institutional racism are reported.
It is a sickness in our society that causes us to value people more highly and pay them more (to do less) because they have a doctorate. Ask many of their “subordinates” (classified staff in educational settings) and they will tell you that a lot of these so-called educators and administrators couldn’t break up a third-grade fight; they certainly aren’t capable of effectively running a campus, department or program simply because they are “educated.” We need new metrics and KPIs to determine a person’s fitness for a position. We should be less impressed with a person’s level of education and pay more attention to their demonstrated skills and abilities.
Jc 10 months ago10 months ago
The CSU also needs to review its nepotism policies and how they are circumvented, and when faculty bring them, they are retaliated against, particularly at CSU Fresno.
Professsor Paul Akerlund. paulakerlund.net. paulakerlund.com 10 months ago10 months ago
Thank you for your excellence in journalism; these CSUSB administrators are useless and have volumes of documentation. I continue preparing legal briefs against their dysfunctional Director of Disabilities and the other useless bureaucratic consortiums. I forwarded registered complaint letters to Morales and all involved and their solution was none. Morales's lack of respect for a professor ( Paul Akerlund) and graduate student taught with privilege by an amazing Department Chair by one of … Read More
Thank you for your excellence in journalism; these CSUSB administrators are useless and have volumes of documentation. I continue preparing legal briefs against their dysfunctional Director of Disabilities and the other useless bureaucratic consortiums.
I forwarded registered complaint letters to Morales and all involved and their solution was none. Morales’s lack of respect for a professor ( Paul Akerlund) and graduate student taught with privilege by an amazing Department Chair by one of my most respected professors, Dr. Joe Scarcellla. I once again go on record that the professors and instructors who taught me continue to be exceptional. I resolve my judgment as I hold advanced degrees from the University of San Francisco.
Registered complaints were also sent to the outside agencies listed as the steps in the educational bureaucracy. You guessed. No reply. The details surrounding this situation in my study of law render the evidence to be objectionable by federal and state law. However, the case will render “serious and willful misconduct” clauses and a high school graduate studying the case logs could have predicted. Sad. Again, the best of my professors, and my instructors. In my prayer always.