Calif. Auditor releases scathing report into CSU handling of sex harassment claims

The California State University system has seen two reports into its handling of sex harassment released in a single week.

One day after the California State University released its internal audit into how its campuses handled sexual harassment allegations, the California State Auditor released its report, finding that the university system did not adequately or consistently address some of the allegations. 

The state auditor reviewed how sexual harassment allegations against employees at Fresno State, San Jose State, Sonoma State and the Chancellor’s Office were handled. 


The backstory: Early last year Gannett reported then-CSU Chancellor and former Fresno State President Joseph Castro mishandled sexual harassment allegations against former university vice president of student affairs Frank Lamas. 

  • As part of the fallout, Asm. Jim Patterson (R–Fresno) spearheaded the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to request an audit into the CSU system’s handling of sexual harassment allegations at the Chancellor’s Office, Fresno State, San Jose State and Sonoma State given high-profile reports surrounding the three campuses. 
  • Monday, the CSU system revealed its internal audit – conducted by Cozen O’Connor law firm – into its own handling of the allegations, finding in part that Fresno State is severely lacking in prevention and education for sexual harassment. 

The big picture: The state auditor reviewed 40 sexual harassment cases from 2016 to 2022 and found problems with how campuses handled the cases, including not documenting a clear reason for closing 11 of the cases without formally investigating the allegations. 

  • One of those 11 cases included a student alleging that an employee “made inappropriate comments about her body and attractiveness, consistently walked her toward her residence after class, talked about his personal romantic life, and compared her to women he had dated.” The student submitted a detailed written complaint and met with a campus official, but the unnamed campus declined to investigate the allegation. 
  • For the other cases that were investigated, the auditor found significant deficiencies in seven of the cases, raising questions about their outcomes. 
  • One of those seven cases came from a contractor who alleged that a faculty member “made inappropriate comments to her on multiple occasions, as well as hugged her, touched her hair, and kissed a different staff member without that person’s consent.” The unnamed campus substantiated the allegations but decided that the conduct did not meet the definition of sexual harassment. 
  • The auditor also found that CSU campuses did not consistently take disciplinary or corrective action to address problematic behavior, including one case where an employee was found responsible for sexual harassment but only faced a reprimanding letter over five years later. 
  • From 2018-2022 Fresno State had 83 sexual harassment reports. The university investigated 11 of them and substantiated six of them. 
  • The state auditor is recommending that the Chancellor’s Office take a more proactive role in how campuses handle sexual harassment allegations. One such way to improve the office’s oversight would be to increase staff positions in the CSU’s Title IX unit. 
  • The auditor also recommends that the Chancelor’s Office should amend its policy for letters of recommendation by July 2024 to prevent employees or former employees who have a history of sexual harassment from receiving a positive letter. 

CSU’s response: Interim CSU Chancellor Jolene Koester submitted a response to the audit, saying the university system appreciates the time and effort that the state auditor devoted to the report. 

  • “The CSU’s implementation of the recommendations from the CSA and those from Cozen O’Conner’s Systemwide Assessment of the CSU’s Title IX and DHR programs and services (directed by the Board of Trustees), will strengthen accountability and the CSU’s ongoing work in prioritizing prevention, mitigating barriers to reporting, and ensuring appropriate institutional response and support systems,” Koester wrote. 
  • “We agree with and will implement the recommendations provided in the audit report, as well as those identified in the Cozen assessment, to strengthen our culture of care and compliance and advance the CSU’s core values of equity, diversity, and inclusion.”
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