Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki to step down amid sexual harassment and retaliation scandal
Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki, who has faced calls to resign amid a sexual harassment and retaliation scandal involving her and her now-estranged husband, announced Monday that she is stepping down.
“Serving as Sonoma State President has truly been an honor,” Sakaki said in a news release from the California State University system. “After thoughtful reflection and discussions with my family, I made the decision to step away as president of this wonderful campus.”
She will depart July 31, six years after she took over as president at the Rohnert Park campus, becoming the nation’s first Japanese American woman to lead a four-year university.
The announcement came nearly eight weeks after The Press Democrat first reported California State University paid a $600,000 settlement in January to a former Sonoma State provost to resolve a retaliation claim related to sexual harassment complaints from several female university employees against Sakaki’s husband, education lobbyist Patrick McCallum.
Sakaki faced growing pressure on and off campus to step down. After she lost a no-confidence vote of the faculty in early May, she skipped two of the university’s most high-profile spring events, an open house for prospective students and graduation ceremonies.
North Bay State Sens. Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire, who had previously called on Sakaki to resign, applauded her decision Monday.
“President Sakaki has made the right decision to step aside,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement. “Today’s action will allow the Sonoma State community to start the healing process and return its focus to the university’s core mission — its students.”
Sakaki’s resignation comes amid widening criticism about California State University’s handling of reports of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior at its 23-campus network, the largest four-year university system in the nation.
Sakaki, 69, has worked in higher education, in both the California State and University of California systems, for four decades.
But her leadership of SSU has been embroiled in controversy since April 13, when The Press Democrat reported on the $600,000 settlement paid by the state system to settle a claim with a former SSU provost.
Lisa Vollendorf, the provost, alleged Sakaki retaliated against her after she reported the sexual harassment complaints about McCallum to the CSU Chancellor’s Office in late 2018. Vollendorf is now the incoming president of State University New York Empire State College.
She has not responded to multiple requests for comment over the past eight weeks.
Current and former administrators said McCallum made the women uncomfortable with lingering hugs, by staring at women’s breasts, and in at least two instances described to The Press Democrat, brushing hair off their faces in an overly familiar way.
Sakaki, who denies any retaliation occurred, announced her separation from McCallum on April 18 and disavowed private and public statements he’s made defending himself and addressing media reports.
McCallum, an official campus volunteer, has apologized for what he described as “gregarious” behavior and said he became more careful with additional training and experience as the spouse of a university president. He denies, however, that he ever acted with sexual intentions.
Sakaki made no mention of the controversy in her announcement Monday.
“I care deeply about Sonoma State and believe this choice will allow the campus community to move forward in a timely manner,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful to the entire SSU and the North Bay communities for the opportunity to serve during such a challenging and transformative time at Sonoma State.”
Sakaki is among Sonoma County’s highest paid public officials, earning $324,052, with an additional $60,000 annual housing. She did not specify what she planned to do next, beyond “continuing my work with the various higher education boards and commissions on which I currently serve, and engaging with projects that focus on educational equity, access and inclusion.”
Sakaki espoused close cooperation between administration and faculty, especially early in her tenure, and reveled in meeting and greeting students.
But she kept a low profile in the past two months as the scandal involving her widened.