Transcript of Sonoma State President Judy Sakaki’s remarks at Academic Senate meeting

SSU President Judy Sakaki released a 17-minute video in defense of her six years leading the Rohnert Park campus, which is now embroiled in a sexual harassment and retaliation scandal involving Sakaki and her estranged husband.|

How to contact the reporters

A team of investigative reporters at The Press Democrat continues to dig into the unfolding scandal at Sonoma State University. Here’s how to get in touch with them to share your story.

Kaylee Tornay


Martin Espinoza


Marisa Endicott


Remarks of Dr. Judy K. Sakaki

President, Sonoma State University

Before the Academic Senate

April 28, 2022

Good afternoon, members of our esteemed Academic Senate.

I appreciate this opportunity to join your meeting with my President’s Report via this format at the suggestion of Chair Morimoto.

My journey here began as a child growing up in multicultural East Oakland. I am the granddaughter of immigrants from Japan. My grandmothers were picture brides. I was raised in a Japanese American home. I attended public schools in Oakland, then on Saturdays I attended Japanese school, and on Sundays I attended the Oakland Buddhist Church. I am a Buddhist.

As a Japanese American woman, I have felt the sting of racial and gender bias and harassment my whole life. It continues to disappoint me that the very same people who accuse me of looking the other way, or covering up bad acts, have apparently given no thought to how deeply offensive I find this behavior because I have experienced it firsthand.

As an undergraduate, my first internship was at BAWAR…Bay Area Women Against Rape. My first full-time job after I completed my master’s degree in counseling was at a shelter for battered women and their children in Hayward.

I am a proud member of the higher education academy.

I believe strongly in the power of higher education - to open doors and create opportunities for students, families and communities.

As someone whose family was rounded up and forced into an internment camp, and who earned the opportunity to complete my Ph.D. and later to become the first Japanese American woman to lead a public, four-year American university, I am living proof of those possibilities.

My life’s experience shows that the CSU system empowers communities…. as we know that if we bring one student from a family, others will follow from that family, from that neighborhood, and from that community.

And the work we do here at SSU is not possible without the partnership between faculty, staff, students, alums, administration and community.

I thank you for all of the work you do on behalf of our students.

You are gathered today to debate a serious matter, and I would like to address it directly, and say some things that I think need to be said now, today.

The past few weeks have been a challenging time. As your president, I take responsibility for my role in this situation and am committed to doing everything possible to learn the lessons and do everything possible to avoid a recurrence. I have apologized unreservedly.

But the concept of responsibility and the spirit of fairness would also dictate a review of the entirety of what my team and I have accomplished in the past 5+ years.

I came here at a time when my predecessor had served this campus for 24 years. The campus was crying out for change, and many of you led those calls.

I heard you and I acted. Together with a strong cabinet, with this distinguished faculty and the support staff, students, community leaders and generous donors.

We have transformed this campus into a new cultural hub, a strong academic center, and have achieved successful outcomes for our students and their families. And, we have a Green Music Center that is a part of our campus with our Arts Integration program and Commencement held there.

We have increased our four-year freshman graduation rate.

Our two-year graduation rate for transfer students is number one in the CSU.

Prior to COVID, we graduated our two largest classes ever in Sonoma State’s history, and

I created SSU’s first Chief Diversity Officer.

We became an HSI, a Hispanic serving institution, in the first year of my presidency which enabled us to be eligible for designated federal dollars.

We are strategically advancing work in support of our Latinx students and earned in our 1st year as an HSI a $2.75 M project, Preparing Underrepresented Educators to realize their Teaching Ambitions (PUERTA).

We are increasing our focus on Native American initiatives, creating a Native American Studies major, and continuing partnership with area Nations to increase enrollment.

We have reached our $9.5 M fundraising target, even during COVID, and we are using some of those funds for scholarships as one effort among many, to build back our enrollment.

And we have done so much more….

I have taken great pride in the work we have done together at SSU.

But some continue to characterize my time here with only this recent crisis in mind.

Let me turn to the issue of allegations of potential harassment or other misconduct.

I’ll restate how repugnant I find this behavior because I have experienced it. But let me be as clear as I can be:

I was NOT informed about any allegations or about any investigation until about one year after the allegations and the investigation were conducted by the Chancellor’s Office. One year.

And even then, it was to learn that the investigation yielded no charges of wrongdoing.

If you know anything about how things work in the CSU system, you will know I had no role in the investigation, no role in its announcement, and did not put my finger on the proverbial scale.

Knowing the timing of events should make clear that I was in no position to retaliate against Lisa Vollendorf, nor would I even if I could. That is not who I am. The Chancellor’s investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, no substantiation of her claims.

As to the settlement, I will take responsibility for my decision to add my signature but not for its content, the amount involved, or how it was paid.

Those decisions were out of my hands, made by the Chancellor’s Office and the Office of the General Counsel, and outside lawyers, none of whom represented me as an individual.

I was advised by CSU to sign it as a means of avoiding future litigation and I imagine anyone in my position would have done the same given this strong advice from his or her bosses and their lawyers.

A little over a week ago, one of our CSU trustees visited our campus. This was scheduled months in advance and I have to admit that that morning I was worried about what he would think given the press stories had just come out.

Trustee Sabalius said that his visit was informative and enjoyable. He noted the strength and focus of each individual or group that he met with. He said, “Your campus is a significant and precious part of the CSU, and given its location and regional significance, I am optimistic about the campus’ future development.” In my closing session with Trustee Sabalius I asked him to share his perceptions of our campus with others. He texted me a few days later and confirmed that he did.

It came as a great relief given the current controversy. But it focused me even more clearly on the significant challenges we still have. Our work is not complete.

I will double down on our Title IX efforts. I listened this week to brave student survivors who visited with me in my office and I felt their courage and pain through their tears. We have to do better. Given the hearts and minds and commitment we have at Sonoma State, there shouldn’t be a hint, a suggestion, a possibility of harassment or discrimination.

•We will have a President’s Advisory Committee on Title IX made up of faculty, staff, students and administrators that will review and make recommendations to improve our Title IX services and communications.

•We will implement a Restorative Justice Program that will help us to work though some of our Title IX issues and other issues of conflict. There is no place for harassment or discrimination on our campus. I care deeply about these issues. I believe that sometimes administrators are too risk averse. We need to communicate where we are in the complaint processes, as much as we can, to the letter of the law.

•That’s why I’m excited that Julie Vivas, our new Title IX Officer and Senior Director of the Office of the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination or OPHD has recently joined us. She has a unique combination of a master’s degree in Student Affairs, a law degree and years of experience in doing this work as a practicing attorney. We will do better in addressing Title IX issues including education, prevention and complaints for all members of our campus community.

•I will continue to meet with this Academic Senate, our students and staff to develop plans of action as we move forward in this continued transformation of our campus.

I have chosen to speak from the heart today because I find so much of the current narrative to be so wrong and, in many cases, simply untrue.

I do not tolerate harassment or discrimination and reject the suggestion that I, unlike my male counterparts, should have my career on the line because of alleged actions of my spouse.

And I am so disappointed that this Senate, which whom I have worked well, and which includes so many friends and colleagues, has been put in the position of a no-confidence action.

Each and every day that I walk on this campus I am reminded that this is my home. And as many of you know, I lost my house to the Tubbs fire in 2017 -- and I was forced to abandon everything I owned as I fled from that house in the midst of intense fires, explosions and smoke.

I moved into a vacant residence hall apartment because I had nowhere to live. I carried on. I led a Gratitude Gathering when the campus reopened and just a week later we had our previously scheduled WASC Accreditation visit. Of eight commendations we received, I’d like to highlight two.

We were commended for a “strong sense of community as reflected in connecting students to services”; and “our Academic Senate for its willingness to work actively with SSU leadership for the benefit of students and the advancement of the institution’s mission.”

And so, while I lost every single one of my possessions in that fire and nearly lost my life, I walked away with my integrity, my character, my life’s memories, my ancestorial spirit and my quest to survive… to succeed. And this motivates me even more each and every day.

In tough times, I think and often speak about the symbolism of bamboo. Bamboo is an incredibly strong and versatile plant yet it is flexible and can bend. It has integrity and a strong core. It can withstand tough winds and is resilient. No matter what…bamboo can weather a storm and not break.

In closing, my parents used to say: Tsumoreba Yama to Naru. Loosely translated, it means that even the tiniest particles of dust, when gathered together can create a mountain that enables others to climb higher and see farther than they ever imagined or dreamed possible.

We together are those particles, we are creating that mountain, and we are allowing our students and their families and this community to climb higher and higher and to dream bigger to achieve in ways they’ve never imagined.

I am honored to serve you as your president.

I remain committed to serving.

And I urge you to look beyond the past couple of weeks, to look forward to that mountaintop so that together we may continue this journey for our students and the community.

We have so much more work to do to help our students, staff and faculty…all of us…to climb higher and see farther than they or we ever imagined or dreamed possible.

Thank you.

How to contact the reporters

A team of investigative reporters at The Press Democrat continues to dig into the unfolding scandal at Sonoma State University. Here’s how to get in touch with them to share your story.

Kaylee Tornay


Martin Espinoza


Marisa Endicott


UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.