The Student News Site of Sonoma State University

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

    SSU and CSU system faced with new lawsuits

    stAR// Dennae taylor

    On April 28, two new lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and retaliation have been filed against Sonoma State University faculty members and administrators, California State University system and its board of trustees.

    The lawsuit was filed by Clea Felien, an assistant professor with Sonoma State’s Arts & Humanities School. In the complaint, she claims that she was made a target of unwanted sexual advances by a tenured professor within her department named Nathan Haenlein. 

    SSU Interim President Mike Lee, Haenlein, the CSU Board of Trustees, Chancellor Jolene Koester, former Art & Art History Department Chair Christine Renaudin, and Hollis Robbins, former Arts & Humanities dean were named as defendants in the suit. 

    A separate lawsuit filed by Robbins on April 27 alleged sexual harassment by McCallum and retaliation by Sakaki, according to the Press Democrat. 

    Robbins said the retaliation intensified in 2021 when she was asked to recount her experiences reporting McCallum’s behavior to university trustees for use in a mediation of then-Sonoma State University Provost Lisa Vollendorf’s legal claim of retaliation for relaying reports of alleged sexual harassment by McCallum.

    On Saturday May 6, a campus wide statement was written and released by SSU President Lee. Part of the statement read: “As you may be aware, two sexual harassment-related lawsuits have been recently filed against Sonoma State University, as well as a number of systemwide representatives, trustees, and individual faculty and administrators.” Lee also said that the university could not make any additional statement to confirm, deny, or explain allegations. “What I will say is that I encourage all of you to exercise your capacity for empathy and compassion broadly, and ask you to refrain from sharing rumors that can literally destroy someone’s life, even, and perhaps especially, if they are untrue.”

    Interim President Mike Lee did not respond when the STAR reached out for an interview.

    Several students, who wished to remain anonymous, have expressed their concerns and disappointment in light of the situation. 

    One third year business student said, “I love this campus. I love all the professors I’ve had and friends I’ve made. But with the scandal from last year and another one right now, it really has me wondering if I made the right decision coming here.” 

    Another first year communication student expressed that Sonoma State was receiving attention within the last year, but for all the unfortunate reasons. “All I can say is ‘yikes.’ Someone needs to be held accountable and not give some lame half-assed apology.” 

    This comes a little over a year since news broke of sexual harassment and retaliation complaints regarding then SSU President Judy Sakaki and her husband, Patrick McCallum. 

    The California State University system and Sakaki were accused of paying out $600,000 to former campus employee Lisa Vollendorf. Sakaki reportedly retaliated against Vollendorf by making defamatory statements. 

    Lee assumed leadership of Sonoma State last August on 22 after the departure of former president Dr. Judy K. Sakaki, who resigned from the presidency on July 31, 2022. 

    Lee’s interim appointment will span for the remainder of the 2022-23 academic year. 

    CSU Trustees will soon begin a national search for a regularly appointed president to lead the campus.

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