President Sakaki a no-show at SSU event for incoming students; talks mount of possible protests
Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki maintained her low profile Saturday, abstaining from the annual Seawolf Decision Day as talk mounted of possible protests should Sakaki officiate at graduation ceremonies May 21-22.
At an event designed to introduce prospective students to the 270-acre campus in Rohnert Park, it was Michael Young, the school’s vice president of student affairs, who served as the main speaker at the 11 a.m. welcome session at Weill Hall.
Six other SSU administrators, students and alumni took turns at the podium. But Sakaki, who is embroiled in accusations that she retaliated against a former administrator who rang alarm bells over alleged inappropriate behavior by the president’s husband, lobbyist Patrick McCallum, was nowhere to be seen.
After the welcome session, Young said he didn’t know if Sakaki was on campus Saturday.
Asked whether her absence detracted from an otherwise joyous occasion for the university, he smiled broadly and said, “Come on. It’s a beautiful day. I love this program, and this amazing campus. Just a great day.”
SSU expected at least 1,200 visitors at Decision Day, according to Rich Toledo, the school’s director of student outreach and recruitment. The day serves as a first look for many students who have been admitted for the upcoming fall semester or are on the waitlist for admission. This was Sonoma State’s first in-person Decision Day since 2020, following two years of pandemic-driven remote events.
Incoming families seemed to be unaware of the controversy currently dogging Sakaki and McCallum. One mom said she “might have seen a thing online.” Most acknowledged they had no idea of the revelations that have emerged over the past two weeks.
Current students had varying levels of interest.
Isley Grguric, an academic junior from Laguna Niguel and a member of the Seawolves women’s golf team, said she read a brief account in the school newspaper, and had received a couple emails from the SSU administration offering students resources if they experience sexual harassment or assault. Most students know of the accusations against Sakaki, but are largely focused on other things, she said.
“School’s over in a month,” Grguric said. “Everyone’s just trying to get to the end.”
Seniors Mitch Davis and Emma Molloy were more definitive in their feelings. Representing KSUN, the campus radio station, at an information table in front of the Sonoma State student union, they demanded Sakaki more clearly explain her actions.
“We are very against her right now, as a student body,” said Davis, the station’s general manager. “And we really want to see either a change in the position or something for her to prove she is capable of leading our school.”
Molloy, a Sonoma County native, also is disappointed in Sakaki, who has declined to be interviewed by The Press Democrat — and by KSUN — since the newspaper broke the story of a $600,000 settlement between the California State University system and Lisa Vollendorf, a former SSU provost who claimed the president vindictively limited her responsibilities after Vollendorf reported sexual harassment complaints against McCallum.
“When I came to this school, I was really excited to have a female president, especially a person of color,” Molloy said. “And to hear everything going on, it’s really frustrating as a female to know your president isn’t looking out for the women in her community.”
The next crossroads in Sakaki’s professional path may come Thursday, when Sonoma State’s Academic Senate is expected to vote on a resolution to deliver a vote of no confidence to the university’s roughly 500 faculty members. Last Thursday, the senate’s 17-member executive committee — a mix of students, professors and administrators — voted unanimously to forward the resolution to the full body.
Meanwhile, SSU graduation ceremonies are now less than a month away.
Davis had originally planned to boycott should Sakaki be officiating. But several professors have encouraged students to attend, he said, arguing that it would be more appropriate to protest her involvement by, for example, wearing a message of condemnation or turning their backs to the president while she is speaking. Davis believes faculty members will denounce her involvement, as well.
The senior said that while he is “frustrated and embarrassed” by the current climate on campus, he isn’t a bit surprised at what he perceives as a leadership vacuum.
“Over the last four years, everything that has happened, the way they handle it is the poorest way possible,” Davis said. “We saw it with the fires. Same thing for the water when the water was going out. The power outages over the last four years. It’s just not surprising it’s happening again.”
It was a harsh note on a sunny, breezy, generally celebratory day at this pretty rural campus. Seawolf Decision Day proceeded without a hitch, but it was a little harder for some veterans to keep up a smile.
“Trying to get students excited to come here, it kind of feels like fake, you know?” Molloy said. “Because none of us are really pleased with the university right now.”
You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.
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