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CSU Board of Trustees March 22 meeting

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The perk at the heart of a buyout of a Fresno State administrator in 2020 that led to the resignation of Joseph I. Castro as chancellor was not an isolated situation.

Since 2015, a handful of administrators across the CSU system have been offered the ability to retreat to the faculty, or exercise that right, despite investigations, allegations of misconduct or disciplinary actions made against them, according to an EdSource investigation. 

Now, the California State University Board of Trustees is creating a policy to tighten the circumstances that would allow faculty who serve as administrators to take on tenured faculty positions. The new policy would bar administrators from faculty jobs in the system if they have been fired or are under investigation for misconduct or policy violations.

The new policy would formalize how administrators receive what is commonly known as faculty retreat for the 23 campus system. The trustees will vote Wednesday on the policy that would explicitly state who can receive faculty retreat and how it can be revoked.

Faculty retreat has traditionally been used to provide a safety net for professors who leave a tenured position to work in a campus’ senior administration. However, the perk has also been used to hire qualified candidates for positions even if they don’t come from faculty and is typically part of presidential compensation packages.

The trustees decided earlier this year to create a systemwide policy following revelations in February that while he was president of Fresno State, former Chancellor Castro reached a six-figure settlement agreement with a Fresno State administrator who threatened to exercise his faculty retreat rights after the campus received sexual harassment and bullying complaints about him. That administrator, Frank Lamas, received $260,000 and a glowing letter of recommendation from Castro in exchange for his retirement. The incident led to Castro resigning as CSU chancellor in February. 

How administrative faculty retreat is used varies by campus, EdSource has found. Some campuses have formal policies, while others like CSU Northridge and Chico State don’t have a written policy.

These types of decisions — offering faculty retreat to administrators — has “typically been at the discretion of campus leadership,” said Mike Uhlenkamp, a spokesman for the CSU system. “The pending policy won’t open the door for campuses to offer retreat rights as it is a practice that exists across all campuses, but it will formalize how this option is granted, the approval process, and most importantly, allow the campus to revoke that option if an employee is found to have violated university policy under the circumstances outlined in the policy.”

The California Faculty Association, the union representing CSU’s faculty members, said in March that CSU should go further than just eliminating faculty retreat for administrators who have engaged in misconduct.

“Retreat rights as an executive perk should be eliminated,” according to the CFA statement. “Executives with minimal classroom experience should not be able to parachute into the classroom and displace existing teachers with proven records.”

Cal Poly Humboldt, like most CSU campuses, doesn’t have an official written policy on administrative faculty retreat, but an investigation into one of its former deans in 2015 forced the campus to alter its written policy on appointments in 2016.

In July 2016, a former dean at the campus, then known as Humboldt State, was fired from his position in the College of Professional Studies. However, like most administrators, when he was hired in 2010, John Y. Lee was given a permanent, tenured faculty position as an option if he left his administrative position. Lee was fired after a series of investigations were launched following accusations that he groped and harassed two female colleagues, according to documents released by the university. Those investigations found Lee violated the university’s Title IX policy prohibiting sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination. Lee vigorously appealed the investigations’ findings and denied any wrongdoing, but his appeal was denied by the CSU Chancellor’s Office in 2016. However, Lee was able to return to take a faculty position in January 2017 and is currently a professor in the School of Education.

A Cal Poly Humboldt spokesman confirmed the campus altered language in subsequent hiring agreements in response to Lee’s decision to remain part of the faculty. Those agreements now state that administrators can lose their faculty retreat rights if they’ve violated university policy. Lee could not be reached for comment.

At Cal State Fullerton, an administrator who faced a Title IX investigation was offered the ability to retreat and did so, but only for about two months. An investigator found that in 2015 Patrick Pellicane, who was an associate vice president of academic affairs, “engaged in physical contact that was unwelcome, unnecessary and unprofessional in the work environment.” However, according to the investigation, Pellicane did not violate the university’s Title IX policy. Still, the campus fired Pellicane in August 2015, according to documents released by the university. Five days later, Pellicane notified the campus that he would accept a faculty position in Fullerton’s math department. Pellicane resigned from the faculty that October. Pellicane could not be reached for comment. 

CSU has also faced criticism for offering a faculty retreat position to former Chancellor Castro. Castro, who is currently on salary as he transitions to a faculty position, can become a tenured professor of leadership and public policy at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo next year. The former chancellor’s retreat rights were approved in September 2020 shortly after he became chancellor. But following the Lamas controversy, faculty groups across the CSU system have protested his ability to join the San Luis Obispo campus. It’s not clear yet whether Castro will accept the faculty position. 

The faculty association also criticized Castro’s settlement for giving him a tenured teaching position in the business college for a “discipline that he does not hold a terminal degree in.” Castro doesn’t have a degree in any disciplines offered in the business college. He holds a bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in public policy from the University of California Berkeley and a doctorate in higher education policy and leadership from Stanford University.

EdSource asked all 23 CSU campuses whether they have policies on faculty retreat and for documents related to specific cases. Nine campuses reported having no administrators who used faculty retreat options after being fired from their positions or after being the subject of a misconduct investigation. Several reported having such cases including Cal State San Marco which reported two cases but has not yet released documents describing them.

Under CSU’s proposed policy, an administrative job candidate would need a recommendation from the tenured faculty in the department to which they would retreat. Administrators will be ineligible for retreat rights if they’ve engaged in misconduct or a policy violation that led to their firing, if they are currently under investigation for misconduct or a policy violation, or if they’ve lost their retirement and pension benefits due to misconduct. 

The policy, which was first discussed at the board’s May meeting, will become official if approved on Wedensday.

EdSource reporter Thomas Peele contributed to this report.

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