Ahead of faculty referendum on her leadership of SSU, Sakaki lays out revamped priorities for campus

President Judy Sakaki issued a message to the campus Thursday that signaled her plans to stay at the helm of the Rohnert Park school.|

Hours before Sonoma State faculty decide whether to advance a vote of no confidence in her leadership, President Judy Sakaki issued a message to the campus Thursday that signaled her plans to stay at the helm of the Rohnert Park campus.

In a more than 1,800-word email, Sakaki referenced "personal support“ received from campus community members and laid out her priorities in the wake of a still unfolding scandal stemming from retaliation claims against her and sexual harassment reports against her husband, Patrick McCallum.

A former SSU provost who relayed the sexual harassment reports against McCallum to California State University officials was paid $600,000 by the CSU system in a January settlement of her retaliation claims.

Sakaki, 69, who has led Sonoma State since 2016, has faced widening questions about her leadership amid revelations about the settlement and reported behavior of her husband affecting several female university employees.

Her message to the campus community only alluded to the scandal.

“As your President, I have the ultimate responsibility for doing everything possible to maintain a community that is free of sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. I reiterate: if anyone has an incident or harm to report, I encourage you to do so,” she said in the email.

She also gave no indication she would be bowing to pressure from those questioning whether she could continue to lead the university.

“In the many conversations I've had with individuals and groups in the greater Sonoma State community these past few days, I've heard two recurring themes: personal support (for which I am truly grateful) and the need to clearly restate our values and articulate our immediate priorities,” her message said.

Sakaki has denied retaliation took place. She has declined interview requests since The Press Democrat first reported last week on the settlement with former SSU provost Lisa Vollendorf.

McCallum has denied allegations of harassment while apologizing for any behavior he said could have made people uncomfortable.

About 3:30 p.m. Thursday, the executive committee of the Academic Senate at SSU will meet and determine whether or not to advance a proposed vote of no confidence in Sakaki’s leadership. If it does so, the ballot would be presented in the next meeting of the full Academic Senate, April 28.

The Academic Senate is the governance body for professors and instructors on campus, overseeing tenure and other administrative matters regarding faculty.

Sakaki in her message Thursday morning articulated strategies to tackle areas of concern raised by faculty, administrators and students in the past week, including the rigor of Title IX processes and declining enrollment.

Those strategies include:

  • Title IX: Sonoma State has been “laying the groundwork this past year on initiating a Restorative Justice Program on campus that will be implemented in the fall,” Sakaki said. Now, she said, she is creating a President's Advisory Committee on Title IX, “which will be charged with reviewing and enhancing our policies, practices, and services.” Title IX is the federal law that bars sex discrimination in education.
  • Enrollment: Sakaki referenced various moves to boost enrollment, including working with the other CSU campuses in Northern California and UC Berkeley. The university is working to boost its offerings of single-year masters programs that can be finished after completion of a bachelors degree and Sakaki said she is working to boost scholarships to encourage greater enrollment.
  • Budget: After furor erupted last week over potential recommendations by a budget committee to tackle Sonoma State’s looming $15 to $17 million deficit, Sakaki reiterated that no final decisions have been made about potential cuts. “My plan is that we will change, improve and reduce our spending without the need for layoffs,” she said. “I value each of you and know that it is simply too disruptive to individuals and families to be without dependable employment. But I must be honest with you about the challenges ahead and will continue to communicate our progress, current data, and specific actions openly and transparently.”
  • Other initiatives: Sakaki referenced “an increasing number of grants and gifts" along with "new partnerships to support our strategic goals.” She discussed plans to increase affordable housing options for faculty and staff and an expansion of the campus solar array and battery bank, to mitigate disruption from power outages or shutoffs.

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

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