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Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

Sonoma State Star

    Graduating students reflect on change in presidency at SSU

    Former President Judy Sakaki’s resignation leaves students questioning the leadership at SSU, wondering how current President Mike Lee compares
    [Both photos courtesy of] Ming-Ting “Mike” Lee stepped in as the new SSU president following Sakaki’s resignation in July 2022

    As President Ming-Tung ‘Mike’ Lee completes his second year of presidency at SSU, upperclassmen students reflect on the transition from former President Judy Sakaki to President Mike Lee, commenting on how it shaped their college experience.

    On July 31, 2022, former President of SSU Judy Sakaki resigned from her position as head of the school after 173 members of faculty voted in favor of a no-trust resolution and State Senators Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire stated  that she should step down.

    Just a day later, Lee came out of retirement to assume the role of the school’s Interim President. Although he was meant to serve the community for the 2022-2023 academic year, the CSU Board of Trustees removed ‘Interim’ from his title in May of 2023 and he has remained the appointed president since.

    Sakaki was the first Japanese American woman and the second woman to be president of SSU. She also made progress of highlighting racial diversity with the creation of the office of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), federal recognition of SSU as a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), and partnering with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Trival Council to support the Summer Bridge Program.

    However, the events preceding Sakaki’s resignation left several students skeptical about past, present, and future leadership at SSU. 

    Sakaki faced mass criticism after using student funds to settle a $600,000 legal claim with SSU’s provost, Lisa Vollendorf, who allegedly faced retaliation from the former president after reporting sexual harassment from Sakaki’s (now separated) husband, Patrick McCallum.

    Other SSU employees described McCallum as a ‘pervert’ and ‘creepy’, and in December of 2018, two women who worked for the school reported that he had made unprofessional comments about their appearances and touched them inappropriately. 

    Several students were infuriated by these reports. “Supporting behavior that is against women and using funds for that was a representation of our school that not all students represented. I do not agree with it,” a fourth-year childhood development and psychology major at SSU said.

    Many were disturbed by the lack of transparency in the matter. “She, as the president, is put in place… to protect the students…  she knew about the harm being caused and aided in it,” a fourth-year GEP major at SSU said. “I don’t like that there was no knowledge about what was going on while the investigation was underway or while the lawsuit was happening. I don’t like that this occurred in the first place- that she retaliated against somebody speaking up [about sexual harassment].”

    Some students argue that Sakaki was disproportionately punished compared to her husband, who was personally responsible for the malefactions, yet was not affected in his employment. “[Patrick McCallum] isn’t even the name associated with the original issue of misconduct. It’s important to recognize her faults and bad actions, but the whole thing is being put onto her name which I think will lead to more group blame falling onto women and women of color in the future,” an English and creative writing major said.

    “I do think what happened to her will contribute to more sexist and racist attitudes towards women of color in authority positions. She’s told by society to support her husband as a woman but also gets blamed by society for his actions and her own to a certain degree, which is something many women in her… position have struggled with. I think he should’ve been punished just as harshly but wasn’t… because he wasn’t in a position like hers.”

    Current SSU President Mike Lee emphasizes the importance of transparency and accountability in his decision-making, especially when it directly impacts students (specifically students of minority identities). Several students have noticed this drastic change in communication.

     A fourth-year GEP student said, “I appreciate [President Mike Lee’s] overtness with… everything going on surrounding campus engagement and community life… I think that it’s a big change from what we saw with Sakaki. He really is looking at what she did wrong and trying to improve… It’s nice that [SSU’s president] is still someone who’s a minority community member. There’s still representation for minority students and minority residents in general.”

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    About the Contributor
    Aisha Mendonca
    Aisha Mendonca, Staff Writer
    Aisha Mendonca is a fourth year Philosophy major and Women Gender Studies minor Sonoma State.
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