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Sonoma State president announces separation from husband amid sexual harassment claims

Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki said Monday that she is separating from her husband, Patrick McCallum, who is at the center of allegations of sexual harassment.

The announcement comes less than a week after The Press Democrat first reported revelations that the California State University system paid a $600,000 settlement in January to a former provost, Lisa Vollendorf, to resolve a dispute related to the complaints involving McCallum.

Sakaki’s announcement also comes after a tumultuous weekend during which McCallum, in a rambling email to “friends and family,” claimed Vollendorf exposed the sexual harassment allegations, which were never substantiated, to cover for her own poor job performance.

On Monday, Lauren Morimoto, head of the kinesiology department, said the Executive Committee of the Academic Senate, which she chairs, will decide Thursday whether to schedule a vote of no confidence against Sakaki by the full senate.

By Monday afternoon, California Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, had weighed in on the controversy, also raising questions about Sakaki’s leadership.

“The reports are a significant distraction for the university at a critical time, and raise serious questions about her leadership and (judgment),” said Dodd, whose district encompasses the university, which is based in Rohnert Park.

“It is concerning and deserves close scrutiny by the CSU chancellor and board of trustees as to how the interests of students and employees can be best served going forward.”

Dodd spokesman Paul Payne said the senator was not specifically calling for a formal investigation. “He’s just saying the chancellor and (CSU) trustees should take a close look at the situation and decide the best thing to do to benefit students and faculty,” he said.

Sakaki, through a spokesman, declined to comment on Monday’s statement, which asked for her privacy to be respected.

“These past few days have been extremely difficult. I am now faced with a challenge that I never thought I would need to confront: disavowing the words and actions of my husband, Patrick McCallum,” Sakaki wrote.

“At this time, I have made the difficult personal decision to separate from Patrick. This past weekend, Patrick sent an inaccurate and unauthorized email to friends and family. The email was sent without my knowledge or consent and does not reflect my viewpoint. I consider the matters between Dr. (Lisa) Vollendorf and me to be resolved.”

McCallum’s email and statement over the weekend was his first detailed public response since the allegations were reported by The Press Democrat last week, though he did issue a terse apology to anyone he may have offended.

On Monday, McCallum did not respond to a request for an interview but did issue another statement by text regarding his wife’s announcement.

“I continue to stand by the veracity of my statements and hope with all my heart that my marriage can survive the stress that this unfounded controversy has placed on it,” he wrote.

The January 2022 $600,000 payout to Vollendorf, who left Sonoma State in 2020, came from CSU insurance, a university spokesperson said. About a year earlier, Vollendorf reported to CSU officials that several female SSU employees had raised sexual harassment concerns involving McCallum, a semiretired education lobbyist who has been married to Sakaki since 2016, the year she assumed the helm at Sonoma State.

Two of the women who complained spoke to The Press Democrat. One said McCallum had acted “creepy” and made her feel uncomfortable. Another said she took steps not to be alone with McCallum at social events.

Vollendorf’s report, and the ensuing CSU investigation, triggered retaliation from Sakaki, according to the claim Vollendorf filed in July 2021 with the CSU Chancelor’s Office. The claim also states that Sakaki violated an agreement to arrange Vollendorf’s transfer to the CSU Chancellor’s Office.

Sakaki has denied accusations of retaliation. In a statement last week, she said she was “surprised and saddened” when she heard of the allegations against her husband.

In Monday’s statement, Sakaki said she continues to be focused on her work and is thankful for the support she is receiving.

“My focus is on leading Sonoma State University,” Sakaki wrote. “I am grateful to the many faculty, staff, students, alumni, members of the extended Sonoma State community, and friends and colleagues from all over the country who have offered their support.”

Morimoto, the Academic Senate chair, said some faculty view Sakaki’s separation as a strategic play to distance herself from McCallum in an effort to keep her job.

“Most people see it as sort of a desperation move,” she said. “It doesn’t really deal with the things that people are upset about, which is the retaliation and the Title IX issues.”

For his part, McCallum said he will focus on his work with retired appellate court Justice John Trotter, who oversees the Fire Victim Trust, a fund created by Pacific Gas & Electric after the 2017 North Bay wildfires and other blazes.

“I am going back to my job of getting wildfire victims fully compensated,” McCallum said Monday in a text message. “Judge Trotter hired me to come up with solutions and lobby the (governor and state legislature) and that is what I’m focusing on.”

McCallum and Sakaki lost their home in the 2017 Tubbs fire, narrowly outracing the flames as they ran for their lives. In a statement Sunday night, McCallum blamed part of his troubles on unresolved post-traumatic stress from that episode.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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