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Sonoma State president ‘should step down’ amid sex harassment scandal, lawmakers say

Two state senators on Monday called for embattled President Judy Sakaki of Sonoma State to step down after a no confidence vote by faculty amid a scandal over her alleged retaliation against a former provost who reported sexual harassment claims against her husband.

“The faculty has spoken and it’s time for the healing process to begin,” Sens. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) said in a statement. “President Sakaki should step down for the greater good of the university,”

Dodd represents a district that includes Sonoma State, and McGuire represents the adjacent district. McGuire graduated from the university and was honored as its 2015 distinguished alumnus.

Of the 629 faculty members eligible to vote, 278 participated. Those who lost confidence in the president won out 173 to 105. The faculty vote is not binding but comes as Sakaki has faced growing scrutiny amid the scandal.

The Times reported that this year, Sakaki signed a settlement agreement with former Provost Lisa Vollendorf, who reported sexual harassment allegations against the president’s husband, Patrick McCallum, then alleged that Sakaki retaliated against her. The settlement prepared by California State University cost the university system $600,000, records show. It was finalized weeks before former Chancellor Joseph I. Castro resigned over outcry for his handling of sexual misconduct and bullying allegations against a former vice president when Castro was Fresno State president.

Sakaki and McCallum, who have separated in recent weeks, have denied wrongdoing.

“I’m gratified for support I’ve received and am mindful of the concerns of those colleagues who cast their vote the other way.” Sakaki said in a statement Monday after the “no confidence” vote.

Larry Kamer, a spokesman for Sakaki, said the lawmakers “are stalwart supporters of Sonoma State University, and we concur with them that the healing process from this very divisive campaign needs to begin, but it’s a bit of a stretch to say ‘the faculty has spoken’ when 56% of them stayed on the sidelines and just 27% of the those eligible voted ‘no confidence.’”

During two open forums last week, faculty informally debated whether to remain supportive of Sakaki or express opposition to her leadership, which many said had come under scrutiny before The Times’ investigation last month. Faculty pointed to a decline in enrollment, a budget deficit and a lack of transparency and communication, in addition to Sakaki’s handling of allegations against her husband, as reasons for the lack of confidence.

“Dr. Sakaki’s pledges to improve and change her administration’s practices ring hollow after nearly 6 years of mismanagement. How many more chances are we willing to give her while Sonoma State is driven to the brink of a crisis from which it may not be able to recover?” 14 faculty members wrote in an open letter.

Others argued that the system, not Sakaki, was at fault. Without disputing allegations, some lauded Sakaki as a history-maker, noting she is the first Japanese American woman in the nation to lead a four-year university.

Citing Times investigations, 44 lawmakers recently called for an independent audit of how CSU investigates TItle IX allegations.



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