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

    President Sakaki accused of retaliation amid claims husband harassed staff

    The campus is still reeling this week from revelations reported Wednesday in the Press Democrat and Los Angeles Times that the California State University system paid $600,000 to former Sonoma State University Provost and Executive Vice President Lisa Vollendorf as a settlement for retaliation Vollendorf claims occurred after she reported several sexual harassment claims made against SSU President Judy Sakaki’s spouse, Patrick McCallum.

    According to Vollendorf’s July 26, 2021, claim which was obtained through the CSU Chancellor’s Office, in 2018, “Several women affiliated with SSU approached Dr. Vollendorf with allegations of sexual harassment. The allegations — all of which painted a cohesive picture of harassment – were against President Sakaki’s husband, Patrick McCallum, who was an active presence on campus, including attending many SSU – sponsored events attended by employees.” 

    The anonymous victims reported particular behavior committed by McCallum such as mentioning his sex life, running his fingers through one woman’s hair and making “inappropriate personal comments” according to settlement records the former provost’s attorney filed with system officials. 

    By CSU rules, managers are mandated to report allegations of sexual misconduct including harassment. After reporting the sexual harassment claims to Executive Vice Chancellor and General Counsel for the CSU, Andy Jones, Vollendorf claims she began facing retaliation from Sakaki. 

    “Immediately upon being spoken to, President Sakaki began a campaign of retaliation against Dr. Vollendorf, demanding that Dr. Vollendorf subject herself to inappropriate, unprofessional and retaliatory activity,” read the claim, “Dr. Vollendorf was forced to leave her position as SSU Provost, rather than continue to be subjected to this hostile and retaliatory behavior.”  

    The day after the news reports appeared, a statement was released to the campus community expressing that the claims made against both Sakaki and her spouse were “without basis,” denying any retaliation and stating, “The complaints about President Sakaki’s spouse were addressed in April 2019, and no similar complaints have been reported to the Chancellor’s Office or Sonoma States’ Title IX Office since that time.”

    Later that day, Sakaki issued an apology to faculty and staff during an Academic Senate meeting with more than 150 people in attendance. 

    Sakaki began the meeting by reading off her official statement: 

    “Sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in any form are unacceptable on our campus, at the CSU or anywhere, and I take seriously any allegations of this kind of behavior at Sonoma State University. I am very proud of our work to transform the campus culture into a more student success oriented, inclusive, diverse and safe environment. The record shows that at SSU and throughout my 40+ year career in leadership positions in the California State University and University of California systems I mentored and supported numerous students, staff, faculty and administrators in their career advancement. This certainly included Dr. Vollendorf. Let me be clear: I would not and never have retaliated against any person who raises concerns or questions my decisions. The claims of retaliation are utterly without basis. Out of respect for Dr. Vollendorf’s privacy, I do not feel it would be appropriate to comment further. I was surprised and saddened to learn of the allegations against my spouse. While no formal claims were filed, the Chancellor’s Office led and oversaw investigation into those allegations, and not SSU or me. Although he denies engaging in any inappropriate behavior, it was important for him and me to learn about these concerns. There have been no complaints since we were informed of the concerns.”

    Sakaki then opened up the meeting for questions where many staff and faculty members were able to voice their concerns. 

    Napoleon Reyes, chair of SSU’s criminology and criminal justice department, asked what many members of the community have been wondering, why was McCallum allowed continued access to the campus given the allegations made against him. 

    Sakaki responded that she was not made aware of the accusations until later on, despite the claim filed by Vollendorf stating that both Sakaki and her husband were made aware of the allegations back in 2019. 

    “I didn’t know, I wasn’t briefed on the situation until much after, and then when I was told, I was told that there was an investigation done by Title IX person. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that the Title IX officer came to campus and spoke to the people and then I was told there was no finding.” 

    Jennifer Mahdavi, SSU professor and graduate studies coordinator expressed that these recent allegations have left her feeling unsafe. 

    “I don’t feel safe in my role as a faculty member at Sonoma State right now. I don’t feel safe to advocate for my students and that word, retaliation, those allegations of retaliation are really triggering for me. I don’t feel safe and I don’t feel good,” she said. 

    Despite Sakaki’s willingness to take questions and listen to concerns, many members of the community were left unsatisfied with her answers that were viewed as largely deflective. 

    “I wanted to be fair to you and give you a chance to explain and answer the allegations, but based on your answers, all I’m hearing are deflections. That you were told to do this, and you were told to do that, or that you didn’t know anything about what was going on,” said Napoleon, “To me, there is this pattern of lack of accountability and lack of transparency that continues and it is demoralizing to me as a faculty member at Sonoma State and I’ll be straight will you, I have lost my confidence in your leadership here at Sonoma State University.”

    Sonoma State University’s Instagram page was flooded with comments and calls for Sakaki’s resignation. 

    A recent graduate commented on the statement the university had released writing, “Your statement is pathetic and dismissive. All you’re doing is protecting Judy and her perverted husband’s asses, so don’t pretend like it’s anything else. It’s time this shitshow university was shut down, Sincerely, a very ashamed alumni.”

    Another student commented, “So you’re telling me the money my tuition has funded went to cover up sexual harassment allegations? During Sexual Assault Awareness month? What a joke this institution is. Continuously disappointed by how this university fails to support survivors, but unfortunately never all that surprised. And since when are the university and President Sakaki the ultimate champions of justice? Denial doesn’t institute any sort of fact.”  

    With graduation around the corner, Decision Day on April, 23, and struggles around low enrollment, there is concern around how all this controversy will impact the university as a whole.  

    “I think it’s embarrassing, I think it’s inexcusable, it’s troubling, and it’s shocking, said Lauren Morimoto, chair of the faculty and head of the kinesiology department. 

    “On the other hand, there are some really good people here who do good work, and I’m not going to pretend like that doesn’t occur just because we have this series of situations coming up. That’s not to say I condone what happened, I’m not saying it was handled properly, but my focus is forward because I am focused on what is good for the institution and for our students.”

    COURTESY // @judyksakaki on Facebook

    Judy Sakaki and Patrick McCallum attending university social gatherings.

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