California · Education

Patterson, legislators request audit into Fresno State, CSU over sex harassment claims

A bipartisan coalition of legislators led by Asm. Jim Patterson (R–Fresno) submitted an official request to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to investigate the handling of Title IX violations and sexual harassment allegations throughout the California State University system on Monday. 

Following the revelation of the troubling details surrounding Fresno State and CSU schools, first reported by Gannet earlier this year, Patterson called for an audit and gathered enough support for it Monday. 

“It will review the systemwide Title IX offices and their investigatory process. We want to know what they do, how they do it and how do they come to some of these conclusions. Why does it take so long? There seems to be more of an interest in protecting the university than it is getting it to justice,” Patterson said. 

“We want to review the university sexual harassment policies and their procedures. We want to identify the total number of harassment complaints, as well as the timeliness in resolving them.” 

The complaints regarding Fresno State centered on former Vice President of Student Affairs Frank Lamas, who had 12 formal Title IX complaints filed against him over his six-year tenure at the university. 

An investigation into the complaints revealed that Lamas was responsible for sexually harassing a woman. 

But then-Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro, who was aware of at least seven of the 12 complaints, agreed to a settlement with Lamas that granted him $260,000 with full retirement benefits and a letter of recommendation. 

Castro was then named as the new CSU Chancellor in September 2020, just three weeks after the settlement was agreed to. 

Castro took over the CSU’s top job in January 2021 but resigned just 13 months later after the details surrounding his handling of Lamas and the complaints were revealed. 

The former Fresno State president accepted a $400,000 settlement package to resign as chancellor.

He also received a position as an advisor to the CSU Board of Trustees and preserved retreat rights to serve as a tenured professor at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. 

Patterson said the audit will investigate the last five years and will focus on the sexual harassment allegations surrounding Fresno State, the CSU Chancellor’s Office, San Jose State and Sonoma State University. 

“We also want to review and evaluate policies regarding these golden handshakes, these retreat rights, where it seems that those who have been the perpetrators and have found to have done the activity that they have been charged with oftentimes receive a payment, retreat rights – we’ve seen letters of recommendations, awards of excellence, things of that nature,” Patterson said. 

In March, the CSU system announced that it will undertake an internal audit into the handling of Title IX complaints by the Law Offices of Mary Lee Wegner, a Sherman Oaks-based employment law firm. 

The state audit, assuming the Joint Legislative Audit Committee approves it at its next meeting on June 27, would begin either after the CSU’s internal audit is completed or four months from June 27, whichever comes first. 

Patterson said the reason behind waiting that long is to allow the California State Auditor the opportunity to benefit from whatever the findings are in the internal audit. 

But Patterson stressed that even with the internal audit underway, an external audit from the state is needed because of the “issue of trust.”  

“Unfortunately the CSU system has done some embarrassing things, hurtful things, and the university itself seems to be very protective of the higher echelons, particularly in the chancellor’s office and the presidents of the various campuses. We just want to make sure than an audit by the California State Auditor is in fact the most independent, the most trustworthy, and we’re going to proceed after we see the audit of the attorneys that the CSU system has hired,” Patterson said. 

“We may find deficiencies. We may find other areas where the audit had something to say, but it’s important. And I’m going to reiterate this: The California State Auditor’s Office has a terrific well-earned reputation of going where the facts take them, of being fearless, not letting political considerations or institutional considerations get in the way. And I believe that that is the kind of audit that will be most revealing about the problems.” 

Patterson, an alum of Fresno State, said the situation is “difficult” given his love for the university, but ultimately the facts of the allegations have been “heartbreaking,” he said. 

“It came as an embarrassment, but it also came as a big surprise that how could this have been going on,” Patterson said. 

Patterson also said that he is continually involved in discussions with victims that are brought to his attention, adding that he would not be asking for an audit if there was more to the story than what has already been revealed. 

“If this were the private sector, if this were companies and corporations, if this was outside of the sort of special treatment that the universities give themselves in circumstances like this, these individuals would have been quickly investigated if their activities were as egregious as they were claimed to be they would have been terminated,” Patterson said. “And they would not be getting letters of recommendations or getting golden handshakes or the privilege or right to go work in the company someplace else in it. 

“So this smacks of special treatment of the university to itself, and that has created the kind of outcomes here that really look very troubling and require the independent and direct and very trustworthy look by the California State Auditor.”

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.