Facing Uproar About Sexual Harassment Scandal, Fresno State President Creates Task Force
Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval says in a YouTube video that the university is creating a task force to review its sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, and Title IX policies.
Jiménez-Sandoval’s announcement Tuesday follows a blockbuster USA Today investigation published last week revealing that the university received at least 12 sexual harassment complaints about a former top administrator, Frank Lamas, before he retired in 2020.
Under a separation agreement, Lamas agreed to never work again in the California State University system. However, he received $260,000, full retirement benefits, and a glowing letter of recommendation from Joseph I. Castro, the then-Fresno State president who is now the CSU chancellor.
Watch: Fresno State President Announces Task Force
“When I was appointed the ninth president of Fresno State, it became my duty to lead and protect our campus community. And in that spirit of stewardship, I want our community to know that sexual harassment, bullying, and misogyny have no place on our campus,” Jiménez-Sandoval said in the video.
“I know the institution can and will do better to create a safe environment for our Bulldog family and educational mission. We did not live up to our institution’s core values over the last week.”
Jiménez-Sandoval said that the task force will be led by an outside consulting firm, which he did not identify. Task force members will include staff, students, and faculty, he said.
“With your help and input, we will create a culture of openness and respect without fear of retaliation. Moving forward, I understand the responsibility at hand and take up the charge to create a culture in which we can all thrive.”
Conduct in Allegations ‘Unacceptable’
In a letter to faculty and staff on Monday, Jiménez-Sandoval said, “I want to emphasize unequivocally that Dr. Lamas’ conduct described in the allegations was unacceptable and inexcusable, and goes against the values we hold most dear as a campus community.”
Lamas, who was the university’s vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, has denied all wrong-doing in interviews with USA Today and The Fresno Bee.
“This has been, professionally, the most horrible thing that has ever gone down in my career,” Lamas told The Bee. “I maintain my innocence and I’m not going to change that opinion no matter what anybody writes or says.”
Lawmakers Call for Investigation
“I was greatly troubled to read the article in USA Today regarding Fresno State University and CSU Chancellor Castro,” Jose Medina, a Riverside Democrat, who chairs the Assembly Higher Education Committee, said on Friday.
“The California Legislature takes allegations and investigations of sexual misconduct very seriously, and situations like this must be handled with the utmost care and consideration for survivors. I share the call to action of others, and I am formally asking the CSU Board of Trustees to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter immediately.”
State Sen. Connie Leyva, a Chino Democrat who chairs the Senate Education Committee, also called for an investigation.
Castro Welcomes Investigation
Meanwhile, Castro said he welcomes an independent investigation into how he handled the situation with Lamas.
“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 Friday.
“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.”
Lillian Kimbell, who chairs the CSU Board of Trustees, said in a statement on Thursday that she supports Castro.
“Dr. Castro’s track record and deep support of Title IX are clear. As president at Fresno State, he acted in accordance with CSU policy in this case and used the management tools available to him to address the situation,” she said.
However, on Friday evening, Kimbell said that she plans to ask the board to support an independent investigation.
The Fresno Bee editorial board called for an outside investigation and for Castro to lose his job if it finds he mishandled the allegations. The editorial board of the Visalia Times Delta, which is part of the USA Today Network, said that Castro should resign.
The statement that Castro issued on Thursday after USA Today published the story is at this link.