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$600,000 for Not Investigating Provost’s Complaint

April 14, 2022

The California State University system paid $600,000 to the ex-provost of Sonoma State University for not investigating her complaint about the husband of the president, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Lisa Vollendorf, then the university’s provost, reported that several women alleged they were sexually harassed by Patrick McCallum, a higher education lobbyist who is married to Sonoma State president Judy Sakaki, a legal claim filed with Cal State indicates. Vollendorf was recently appointed president of Empire State College of the State University of New York.

Vollendorf told the Cal State general counsel that three women, two of them campus employees, alleged McCallum talked about his sex life, ran his fingers through one woman’s hair and then made “inappropriate personal comments” about her appearance during a party at his house, according to settlement records. The women described the behavior as “creepy,” “disgusting” and “pervy,” the records said.

Cal State officials said they did not launch a formal investigation into the harassment claims and instead spoke to Sakaki about the accusations. CSU officials said in a statement that a Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 officer conducted a review of the allegations and concluded “the reported conduct might not rise to the level of sexual harassment as defined by university policy” if the accusations were investigated and substantiated. The CSU’s definition of sexual harassment includes “unwelcome verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

In statements issued to the Times Wednesday, McCallum said he had done nothing wrong, and Sakaki denied retaliating against Vollendorf, saying the accusations “are utterly without basis.”

“Sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation in any form are unacceptable on our campus,” Sakaki said. “I was surprised and saddened to learn of the allegations against my spouse,” she added, saying that “he denies engaging in any inappropriate behavior.”

Vollendorf provided a statement saying that leaders in higher education have an obligation to do “the right thing even when it’s the hard thing.”

“I sincerely hope that broader knowledge of stories like these results in systemic change so nobody is ever again subjected to the treatment I witnessed, reported, and experienced,” she said.

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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