A former Sonoma State vice president shielded staff from the president’s husband. He wishes he had done more
A former senior administrator at Sonoma State University said he took steps to shield female staff members from the husband of President Judy Sakaki, but that he wishes he’d done more to protect them from his reported sexual harassment.
In an interview with The Press Democrat, Gordon McDougall, who served as interim vice president for university advancement from May 2018 through February 2020, also said he told a member of the California State University system’s Chancellor’s Office about the troubling behavior of Sakaki’s husband, Patrick McCallum, but no one followed up with him.
McCallum has been involved with Sonoma State’s fundraising and outreach during the nearly six years that Sakaki has been president and was considered an “official volunteer” and ambassador for the campus. However, Sakaki announced Monday the couple were separating.
The Press Democrat on April 13 first reported the California State University system paid $600,000 in January to a former provost who said Sakaki retaliated against her for reporting some of those sexual harassment complaints to the chancellor’s office.
Sakaki has denied the retaliation claims, calling them “utterly without basis.” She has declined numerous interview requests and released written statements in response to questions.
McCallum has also denied wrongdoing, but he apologized for any behavior that “made some people feel uncomfortable.” He defended himself and Sakaki again in a meandering email April 16 to family and friends, saying former provost Lisa Vollendorf claimed retaliation to cover for her own poor job performance.
Vollendorf has not responded to phone calls and emails.
She filed her claim in July 2021 with the university system, saying Sakaki had interfered with her job prospects and made defamatory statements about her. The settlement was reached six months later.
McDougall, 69 and retired, is one of three former and current administrators who spoke with The Press Democrat about their experiences with both McCallum and a 2019 Title IX inquiry the university system made in response to Vollendorf’s report of staff sexual harassment complaints about McCallum.
Sonoma State is one of 23 campuses in the CSU system, and Sakaki’s position is overseen by the chancellor and the CSU Board of Trustees. The systemwide Title IX officer handled the investigation into the complaints against McCallum because he is married to Sakaki.
Those complaints involved touching and conversations that made the affected employees uncomfortable, a university spokeswoman told The Press Democrat.
Title IX is the federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
Around the time of that CSU inquiry, McDougall said, he was contacted by Andrew Jones, executive vice chancellor and general counsel for CSU. McDougall told Jones that he had rearranged staff routines to avoid having female employees work with McCallum.
“I did that based on the fact that in previous roles in previous places, when people had questionable interactions, I would reassign people … without a lot of fanfare,” McDougall said. “And I learned as we had more and more discussions about it that there was a lot of discomfort, and more discomfort from female members of our staff.”
After McDougall’s conversation with Jones, no one at the chancellor’s office followed up with him. He said he thought that was “peculiar.”
In a statement responding to questions from a Press Democrat reporter, Jones said he did follow up.
“I can assure you that I shared with the Systemwide Title IX Compliance Officer all material information that had been shared with me from any source, including Mr. McDougall,” Jones said in an email. He said, to his knowledge, Vollendorf’s report to the Title IX officer had also included information provided by McDougall.
“I also understand that the Systemwide Title IX Compliance officer contacted one or more employees in Mr. McDougall’s division with the assistance of Dr. Vollendorf,” Jones wrote.
McDougall said he assumed he hadn’t been contacted because his knowledge of staff issues with McCallum was general, not based on specific instances that he understood to be harassment.
'Systematically making people uncomfortable’
However, his view of his responsibility as a manager of 10 to 15 employees, most of them female, has shifted with more reflection. Now, he said he regrets not taking a more active role in investigating his staff’s experiences with McCallum.