Castro was appointed as the CSU's eighth chancellor in January 2021. (Courtesy of the CSU Office of the Chancellor)

Chancellor Castro resigns after scrutiny over handling of Fresno State sexual harassment claims

By Georgia Valdes and Aaliyah M. E. Murillo, Feb. 22, 2022

On Feb. 17, California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro submitted his resignation as chancellor of the university system to the CSU Board of Trustees, effective immediately.

This resignation comes after bipartisan calls from state legislators for an independent investigation into Castro’s alleged mishandling of sexual harassment allegations by a Fresno State administrator while Castro served as president of the university. The resignation was accepted by the Board of Trustees, and it appointed Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Steve Relyea to serve as acting chancellor until an interim chancellor is named.

Castro was appointed as the CSU’s eighth chancellor in January 2021. (Courtesy of the CSU Office of the Chancellor)

“The decision to resign is the most difficult of my professional life,” Castro said in his resignation statement. “While I disagree with many aspects of recent media reports and the ensuing commentary, it has become clear to me that resigning at this time is necessary so that the CSU can maintain its focus squarely on its educational mission and the impactful work yet to be done.”

According to a Board of Trustees’ press release, the long-term focus for the CSU community will be on bolstering Title IX, a U.S. federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in education programs. Protection and action against sexual harassment is among the regulations it provides to campuses. 

Cal Poly Pomona President Soraya M. Coley, who was one of two CSU presidents on the Stakeholder Advisory Committee to choose the chancellor in 2019, echoed this sentiment in a statement to The Poly Post.

“While Dr. Castro’s resignation is presently drawing attention, my continued priority is the safety and wellbeing of (the) Cal Poly Pomona community and assuring that we foster an institutional culture that proactively prevents and responds decisively to sexual misconduct. And while we will be looking carefully at our policies and practices, this is also an opportunity to reflect on both our individual and collective responsibilities — empowered by courageous campus leadership — in addressing all forms of discrimination, harassment and mistreatment.”

This comes as welcome news to Dawnita Franklin, assistant vice president for institutional equity and compliance & Title IX coordinator for the Office of Equity and Compliance. Franklin explained that the best aid to the Title IX program is more resources. CPP’s Title IX’s staff currently consists of two investigators, one deputy reserved for administrative cases, one coordinator and one operating program coordinator. This team of five works to serve about 29,000 students as well as all university employees.

“We have to respond to pretty much everything that comes in. That response can look different in a lot of different ways. The response may look like training. It might look like education. It might look like a programmatic initiative. We need resources to take on those types of things that are always not investigatory by nature. There are so many other things we can do,” said Franklin, “I am really trying to raise (Title IX) visibility, but I need resources to do that. I think that is a way that we can kind of get ahead of things and be proactive instead of being reactive to issues that happen on campus.”

As college campuses across the country face scrutiny over the handling sexual misconduct allegations, including on University of California campuses,  some are continuing the call for an investigation into Castro’s handling, regardless of his resignation. Nicholas Von Glahn, president of the California Faculty Association’s Pomona chapter, predicted and hoped that an investigation would lead to Castro’s resignation, but the immediacy came as a surprise.

California State Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, who serves as chair of the state Senate Education Committee and whose district encompasses Cal Poly Pomona, released a Feb. 18 statement reaffirming the need for an investigation into Castro’s handling as Fresno State president.

“Survivors of the abusive conduct and harassment — as well as the entire CSU community and public at large —deserve to know exactly what happened under Chancellor Castro’s watch at Fresno State. … If the CSU Board of Trustees refuses to initiate an investigation in the near future, I will convene a Senate Education Committee hearing to examine the extent of inappropriate behavior that endangered the safety and well-being of students and other members of the Fresno State community. We must do all we can to fully uncover what happened and prevent it from ever happening again.”

California Assemblymember Jose Medina, D-Riverside, who serves as chair of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, also announced that he intends to introduce legislation that will require evaluation of a university official’s Title IX adherence and conduct before promoting them into leadership positions.

“I am glad that there was accountability in this specific situation but (there must be) accountability going forward,” said Medina in a Feb. 18 press release. 

ASI President Prabhat Jammalamadaka is hopeful that future action will reflect a more concerted effort. Jammalamadaka pledged ASI to collaborate with the CPP administration to enact better practices on campus.

“Chancellor Castro’s resignation shows that wrongful handling of sexual misconduct allegations will not be tolerated in the CSU system,” Jammalamadaka said. “However, as a system we must work to ensure that all entities must receive proper training in Title IX. Along with that, administrators need to be held to the same standards as students and should go through very thorough interviews and background checks before being offered a position. I am also hoping that student leaders and students in general will be included in ongoing conversations regarding Title IX within the system. It doesn’t matter if it is CSU level or CPP level. So, if there is a vote to come out, (then) we are always going to be in the stance of better investigations and better use of student funds and fees in order to get better administration in.”

Jammalamadaka also outlined the ASI initiative toward the betterment of Title IX to strengthen safety for the campus community.

“ASI, this year, when we created our action plan at the beginning of my administration, has always talked about how we were going to be in support (of) Title IX reform,” Jammalamadaka said. To see its action plan, students can visit the ASI Student Government website.

Franklin awaits response from both the CSU and CPP system and is confident that the wave will bring much needed support to the Title IX office.

“It’s really my goal to take the stigma off our office as this policing body that students are afraid to come to,” Franklin said, “My main priority is to create a campus where I know everyone is safe (and) everyone is empowered to come forward. If you bring your concerns, I want you to have enough faith and trust in our office that we are going to address them. We are going to do what we can. You will be heard and your concerns will be taken seriously. That is my main focus. To create a culture of trust here at the university.”

If campus community members are facing sex discrimination, including  sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking, they can reach out to CPP’s Office of Equity and Compliance at 909-869-4646 or to begin a report and investigation.

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