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SSU President Sakaki’s husband defied order to avoid campus, prompting CSU response in March, memo shows

What you need to know about the Sonoma State scandal

Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki is embroiled in a scandal stemming from a $600,000 settlement paid to a former SSU provost who said she faced retaliation after relaying reports of alleged sexual harassment by the president’s estranged husband, lobbyist Patrick McCallum.

The Press Democrat on April 13 was the first to report California State University system paid former provost Lisa Vollendorf and her attorneys $600,000 in January to settle the retaliation claims.

Vollendorf, who was provost at SSU from 2017 to June 2020, filed the retaliation claim with the CSU system in July 2021. Her claim accused Sakaki of retaliating against her in response to reports Vollendorf made of sexual harassment complaints by SSU female employees against McCallum.

Since then, at least two university employees have stated that McCallum made them feel uncomfortable with inappropriate language, standing too close, and brushing their hair from their face in what was perceived as an unwelcome intimate gesture.

The university had stated the $600,000 was paid by insurance, but later backtracked, saying about $250,000 of the sum came from campus funds drawn from student tuition, fees and other sources.

Sakaki has denied retaliation and McCallum has denied wrongdoing. She has also declined repeated interview requests.

Several days after the initial Press Democrat report, McCallum sent a late-night email he said was intended for close friends and family, stating that Vollendorf leveled the accusations against him and Sakaki to cover for her poor job performance.

After The Press Democrat obtained a copy of the email, he sent a follow-up statement stating that he had a hearing impairment that led him to stand close to people and apologizing for making anyone feel uncomfortable.

The following day, Sakaki announced she was separating from McCallum.

While Sakaki has kept a low profile, the revelations have dominated campus news and added to the scrutiny surrounding CSU’s handling of sexual harassment complaints.

On April 28, the Academic Senate advanced to the full faculty a no-confidence vote on Sakaki’s leadership, and student groups have marched in protest of Sakaki, calling for her resignation. Some students have vowed to boycott graduation ceremonies if she does not.

Voting by faculty began May 6 and ended May 9 with approval of the no-confidence resolution.

Sakaki skipped graduation ceremonies May 21-22.

On Monday, June 6, she announced she would resign effective July 31.

Then-California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro ordered Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki’s husband, Patrick McCallum, to stay away from campus in November 2021 after receiving complaints about McCallum’s behavior, according to a March 2022 memo from the Chancellor’s Office.

The memo, sent to Sakaki by Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Evelyn Nazario, was prompted by a report in March 2022 that McCallum had recently defied Castro’s order by attending an on-campus event.

The one-page memo offered no further detail about the nature or format of Castro’s directive to Sakaki. It also does not specify the campus event that McCallum was known to have attended.

“This letter confirms our conversation that occurred on March 2, 2022,” Nazario wrote to Sakaki. “The conversation consisted of my informing you that it was brought to my attention by a Board of Trustee member that your husband, Patrick (McCallum), had attended a social gathering at Sonoma State University earlier in the week after being informed by former chancellor, Joseph Castro, on November 19, 2021, that Mr. (McCallum) was not allowed on campus premises due to previous complaints received.”

The memo sheds new light on the concerns top CSU officials harbored about McCallum’s reported behavior, and the extraordinary measures they took to order the spouse of a university president, an official SSU volunteer, to stay away from the Rohnert Park campus.

The memo was released by CSU officials to The Press Democrat in response to an April 22 records request.

Castro did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Memo from CSU Board of Trustees Vice Chancellor for Human Resources Evelyn Nazario.pdf

The memo was disclosed two days after Sakaki announced she will step down as Sonoma State’s president on July 31. Her official resignation letter to CSU officials, however, came two weeks ago — on May 23, a day after graduation ceremonies she skipped — according to settlement documents also released by CSU on Wednesday.

Sakaki, who has led Sonoma State since 2016, will be paid $254,438 in a new yearlong administrative role before transitioning to a faculty post within the California State University system, according to the CSU documents released to The Press Democrat.

Sakaki’s resignation announcement comes nearly two months after The Press Democrat first reported April 13 the CSU paid a $600,000 settlement to a former provost who complained of retaliation by Sakaki after the provost reported staff claims of sexual harassment against McCallum to the CSU Chancellor’s Office.

The CSU Title IX office conducted a preliminary investigation into the complaints, but none of the reported victims wanted to proceed with a formal investigation, so the matter was dropped after January 2019, records show.

Sakaki has said she was not made aware of any allegations of inappropriate behavior by McCallum until “one year” after the investigation into the provost’s complaint concluded — which would mean sometime in 2020.

She has denied retaliation. McCallum, a prominent education lobbyist, denied acting with sexual intent, though he apologized for what he called “gregarious” behavior.

A spokesperson for Sakaki, who has repeatedly declined interview requests, did not immediately respond to an email and text message requesting comment.

A spokesperson for Sonoma State University did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

McCallum could not immediately be reached for comment.

Current and former administrators said McCallum made female employees uncomfortable with lingering hugs, by staring at women’s breasts, and in two instances described to The Press Democrat, brushing hair off their faces in an overly familiar way.

A former director at the Green Music Center said he tried to warn Sakaki about McCallum’s behavior with staff as far back as August 2016, but Sakaki took no action in response.

Gordon McDougall, former interim vice president of university advancement, said he rearranged staff duties in his department to shield female staff members from having to work with McCallum during his tenure.

PD Columnist Marisa Endicott contributed to this report.

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

Kaylee Tornay

Education, The Press Democrat

Learning is a transformative experience. Beyond that, it’s a right, under the law, for every child in this country. But we also look to local schools to do much more than teach children; they are tasked with feeding them, socializing them and offering skills in leadership and civics. My job is to help you make sense of K-12 education in Sonoma County and beyond.  

What you need to know about the Sonoma State scandal

Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki is embroiled in a scandal stemming from a $600,000 settlement paid to a former SSU provost who said she faced retaliation after relaying reports of alleged sexual harassment by the president’s estranged husband, lobbyist Patrick McCallum.

The Press Democrat on April 13 was the first to report California State University system paid former provost Lisa Vollendorf and her attorneys $600,000 in January to settle the retaliation claims.

Vollendorf, who was provost at SSU from 2017 to June 2020, filed the retaliation claim with the CSU system in July 2021. Her claim accused Sakaki of retaliating against her in response to reports Vollendorf made of sexual harassment complaints by SSU female employees against McCallum.

Since then, at least two university employees have stated that McCallum made them feel uncomfortable with inappropriate language, standing too close, and brushing their hair from their face in what was perceived as an unwelcome intimate gesture.

The university had stated the $600,000 was paid by insurance, but later backtracked, saying about $250,000 of the sum came from campus funds drawn from student tuition, fees and other sources.

Sakaki has denied retaliation and McCallum has denied wrongdoing. She has also declined repeated interview requests.

Several days after the initial Press Democrat report, McCallum sent a late-night email he said was intended for close friends and family, stating that Vollendorf leveled the accusations against him and Sakaki to cover for her poor job performance.

After The Press Democrat obtained a copy of the email, he sent a follow-up statement stating that he had a hearing impairment that led him to stand close to people and apologizing for making anyone feel uncomfortable.

The following day, Sakaki announced she was separating from McCallum.

While Sakaki has kept a low profile, the revelations have dominated campus news and added to the scrutiny surrounding CSU’s handling of sexual harassment complaints.

On April 28, the Academic Senate advanced to the full faculty a no-confidence vote on Sakaki’s leadership, and student groups have marched in protest of Sakaki, calling for her resignation. Some students have vowed to boycott graduation ceremonies if she does not.

Voting by faculty began May 6 and ended May 9 with approval of the no-confidence resolution.

Sakaki skipped graduation ceremonies May 21-22.

On Monday, June 6, she announced she would resign effective July 31.

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