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SSU President Judy Sakaki to be paid $254,438 for new CSU job in resignation deal amid sexual harassment and retaliation scandal

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.

Outgoing Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki will be paid $254,438 in a new yearlong administrative role before transitioning to a faculty post within the California State University system.

The details of her separation are contained in a resignation agreement she reached with CSU amid a sexual harassment and retaliation scandal linked to her and her now-estranged husband.

The agreement, provided to The Press Democrat on Wednesday through a public records request, states that Sakaki is transitioning to a faculty job, though it does not specify her post or say where she will be working.

Settlement Agreement and Release.pdf

A resignation letter Sakaki sent to CSU as part of the agreement was dated May 23, two weeks before she publicly announced that she would step down.

The Press Democrat first reported on April 13 that 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.

In the wake of those revelations, university faculty, students and two state senators representing the North Bay called on Sakaki to resign. After weeks of cutting a low profile — she skipped two major university events and has declined all interview requests — Sakaki announced Monday she would step down at the end of July after leading the Rohnert Park campus for six years.

Sakaki could not be reached for comment through her personal spokesman, Larry Kamer, who referred a request for an interview to Sonoma State communications staff.

Robert Eyler, a spokesman for the university, said Sakaki is not granting interviews.

Her salary going forward was calculated at the midpoint between her final president’s pay and the salary range for a full professor, the agreement states. Sakaki’s current annual pay is $324,052, plus $60,000 to cover housing costs, according to public records.

Under the terms of her agreement, her new salary is funded by the CSU Chancellor’s office during a one year transition period beginning Aug. 1. Under the California State University’s executive transition program, outgoing presidents and other senior leaders are allowed a period of transition in order to assume other jobs in the system.

To be eligible, recipients must have served five years in an executive position at the system; be in good standing at the commencement of the program; have previously identified a position in the system to return to upon completion of the transitional program; and not have accepted nonstate university system employment.

The executive transition program was halted in the spring for all new hires following criticism that it led to big payouts to CSU executives who were leaving their posts under a cloud of controversy.

The 23-campus California State University system is the nation’s largest four-year public university system.

Sakaki, 69, has worked in higher education, including administrative roles for the CSU system and the University of California, for four decades. She is the first Japanese American woman in the nation to lead a four-year university.

Under the terms of her resignation, Sakaki will be awarded the title of president emeritus upon her resignation, which is irrevocable. She also agreed to support the CSU chancellor and Sonoma State’s interim president as requested.

According to the agreement, Sakaki must participate and “fully cooperate in any and all investigations, depositions, hearings trials or other legal or administrative proceedings related to her role as President of Sonoma State University.”

Sakaki’s agreement stipulates that after her one-year transition period, she will have “retreat rights” at Sonoma State which will allow her to take a faculty position in the Department of Educational Leadership and Special Education.

“If you choose to exercise those rights, you must inform the campus in a timely fashion, and they will be responsible for all costs associated with the appointment in future year(s),” the agreement states.

Retreat rights allow someone to return to a faculty position at the end of their administrative appointment. The agreement states that if Sakaki seeks to “move your retreat rights for a faculty appointment to another CSU campus, you will need to negotiate that directly with the campus interested in securing your appointment.”

Napoleon Reyes, the new president of the Sonoma chapter of the California Faculty Association, said that university department heads are usually involved in the granting of retreat rights.

It’s unclear whether the head of the school’s Department of Educational Leadership and Special Education was involved in the granting of Sakaki’s retreat rights. The department chair could not be reached Wednesday afternoon.

Reyes, who is a faculty member with the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice Studies, said he had concerns about Sakaki’s $254, 438 payout. He said that although that money is coming out of the Chancellor’s Office, he was worried that it might ultimately effect future Sonoma State funding.

Sonoma State is facing a budget shortfall of between $15.5 million and $17 million for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

“Right now, we already have a problem with our budget,” Reyes said. “I’m worried that down the line that will be taken from the budget of the university.”

Ben Ford, a math professor at Sonoma State, said he didn’t think the CSU system was granting anything “special” to Sakaki.

“The separation agreement sounds pretty standard to me but it also reflects the excessive levels of executive pay that have become the norm in higher education,” he said.

Ford was among faculty members who had mixed feelings about the faculty no-confidence vote. Ford said that while he didn’t think Sakaki should be punished for things her husband was alleged to have done, he did not see a clear path to reestablish her leadership at the university.

State Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, who along with Sen. Mike McGuire called on Sakaki to resign immediately after the faculty no-confidence vote was approved, said it’s time for Sonoma State to move forward with new leadership.

“The focus now should be on recruitment of a new president who can ensure the university moves forward to meet its challenges,” said Dodd, whose district includes the Rohnert Park campus.

Columnist Marisa Endicott contributed to this story.

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

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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