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Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki’s husband pens rambling email defending himself, blasts wife’s accuser

In a rambling late-night email, lobbyist Patrick McCallum says a former provost raised the allegations to cover up for her own poor performance.|

In a rambling email to “friends and family,” Patrick McCallum — the husband of embattled Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki — said a former administrator who exposed sexual harassment claims against him did so to cover for her own poor job performance.

The email is McCallum’s 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.

Since then, he has repeatedly stated that his attorneys would not allow him to respond.

In the 1,200-word email, which is laden with typographical errors, McCallum said, “The lawyers have lifted that restriction and I can tell you my view of what took place.”

On Sunday, McCallum contacted The Press Democrat through an intermediary and in a call to the newspaper’s editor to ask that the email not be published, saying that it had been written late at night and was intended only for family and close friends.

Read McCallum’s original statement here.

Minutes after this story published online, McCallum sent a seven-paragraph statement saying he was “deeply sorry for the damage and hurt that I have caused.” He said he had not properly dealt with the trauma of almost losing his life in the 2017 Tubbs fire, which destroyed the home he shared with Sakaki. He also said that a hearing impairment may have led him to move in closer to people, which may have made them uncomfortable.

Read McCallum’s followup statement here.

McCallum’s original email was obtained by The Press Democrat independently. It offers unfiltered insights by McCallum about the escalating Sonoma State controversy and provides a glimpse into the tumultuous relationship involving Sakaki and her former provost-turned-whistleblower.

The email strongly criticizes former provost Lisa Vollendorf, who in January received a $600,000 settlement from the California State University system to resolve a claim that Sakaki retaliated against her after she reported sexual harassment complaints involving McCallum.

McCallum said just weeks after Vollendorf was hired in 2017 he and Sakaki started hearing numerous complaints about Vollendorf.

“Judy would say a few months after hiring Lisa Vollendorf as her provost she made the worst hire of her career and as we will find out she did,” McCallum wrote. He added that within a year’s time, eight different faculty and students complained to him about Vollendorf.

McCallum said Sakaki made several unsuccessful attempts to address the conflicts between Vollendorf and the campus community, including recommending a “coach” who had been a former CSU provost. The coach’s advice he said, was ignored.

“Judy has tried everything and now knows Lisa has to go and is ready to fire her when she gets a call from the system chancellor there have been a filed compliant (sic) against me and to hold off from firing lisa,” McCallum wrote.

“Later Lisa would admit to Judy she was the one who filed the complaint as ‘I had to protect myself from you.’”

Vollendorf, who has not responded to Press Democrat calls or emails this week, could not be reached Sunday for comment. Her 2021 claim paints a far different picture of the conflict.

Vollendorf’s claim states that after Sakaki was informed about sexual harassment reports against McCallum, the university president began “a campaign of retaliation.” Among her complaints: Sakaki limited the scope of Vollendorf’s job duties and required her to undergo “inappropriate and unprofessional therapeutic ‘coaching’ by an untrained therapist.”

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

Two of the women who complained spoke to The Press Democrat last week. 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 former provost’s claim also states that Sakaki violated an agreement the two women reached 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.

“Although he denies engaging in any inappropriate behavior, it was important for him and me to learn about these concerns,” her statement read. “There have been no complaints since we were informed of the concerns.”

McCallum, a veteran Sacramento lobbyist considered by CSU to be an official volunteer and ambassador for the campus, also issued a blanket denial Wednesday disputing he had engaged in “any wrongful conduct toward anyone.”

In his email Saturday, McCallum again expressed regret for any discomfort that may have been caused by his interactions.

In his email, he said that when he first arrived on the Rohnert Park campus he was unaware that a president’s spouse was perceived to have more power and influence than he thought, and that he was expected to behave professionally, as he does with his own staff.

“I interacted with staff and students as if they were my friends,” he wrote. “Judy would hug everybody and after they hug (sic) Judy they would hug me.”

McCallum said that after learning of a complaint about his behavior, he and Sakaki agreed that he needed to “reduce his presence on campus” and that he “only shake hands and not trust anyone.” He said that for the last three to four years, “that is how I have acted.”

But he said, “It is clear to me in the first year, my gregarious nature did create some discomfort for some staff and that allowed Lisa and one other woman to used (sic) it to go after Judy. And in some cases, (I) found women who were uncomfortable with me in those first years on campus. For those woman (sic) I am so sorry what my words and enthusiasm may have done and how that is now hurt (sic) Judy, me and the campus.”

McCallum also said, “I also know that Lisa (Vollendorf) and one other woman who (filed) the complaint made up accusations and used me as a way to get at their anger and efforts to get Judy fired. Many of those accusations are completely false.”

McCallum’s email is the latest twist in a controversy that has rocked the campus since April 13, when The Press Democrat first reported on the $600,000 settlement. A related Los Angeles Times story published later that day.

Since then, questions about Sakaki’s husband and her leadership have erupted across the Rohnert Park campus and reverberated to the California State University headquarters in Long Beach.

In an emotional online meeting Thursday of the Sonoma State Academic Senate, Sakaki apologized for the scandal and said she was embarrassed by how the situation has engulfed the school.

On Sunday, a senior administrator who was interviewed by a CSU investigator and has characterized McCallum’s behavior toward her as harassment, said she considered the email he wrote Saturday as an admission of his behavior.

The administrator asked that her name not be used because she feared retaliation that could negatively affect her career. She said she reported McCallum’s Saturday night email to the chancellor’s office.

In a text message Sunday, the administrator wrote that “it is clear that while Patrick McCallum said he ‘missed’ the message that the president’s spouse has power, he insists that he is entitled to play a role in the running of the university even though he went through absolutely no process to put him in that position.”

She said all other university administrators, faculty members and staff are interviewed, assessed, evaluated, and vetted.

“Telling people they have to do what you say because of whom you’re sleeping with, which he did on a regular basis is sexual harassment on its face,“ she said.

“He is admitting his entitlement, his sense of entitlement — his entitlement to touch people and policy, whether welcomed or not,“ she said during a phone interview Sunday.

In a previous interview, another SSU employee told The Press Democrat that McCallum would frequently make unusual demands of her time for errands that benefited him and Sakaki, and when met with resistance, he would say things such as, “Does it mean anything that I’m sleeping with the president?”

McCallum’s email is likely to complicate even more a controversy that has many questioning Sakaki’s leadership, particularly at a time when tough decisions are going to be required to resolve budget shortfalls.

Lauren Morimoto, who chairs the kinesiology department and is head of the Academic Senate, said on Sunday that the email adds more fuel to what has become a “distraction” ahead of talks about budget cuts.

“I don’t think it looks good, it doesn’t look good. I don’t understand how (McCallum) thought this would be a helpful letter,” Morimoto said. “It’s going to be hard. Whenever you have to cut budgets, people turn on each other. Leadership is needed to manage painful discussions that have to be had.“

Morimoto said she received the email from a “non-Sonoma State email,” and that she doesn’t believe it has been widely circulated yet. She said she thought that when it does get out in the public, it’s going to spell more trouble for Sakaki.

“I think if this letter is made public, I don’t think Judy can survive it,” she said, adding that there is currently a move among some faculty members to push for a vote of no confidence.

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

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been revised to specify that eight faculty members and students complained to Patrick McCallum about SSU Provost Lisa Vollendorf, according to McCallum. An earlier version of the story misidentified the person who had received those complaints.

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