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Cal State Chancellor Joseph Castro Resigns Following Report About His Handling Of Sexual Harassment Claims

Joseph Castro, wearing a black sports jacket, white shirt, and red tie, faces the camera on a video call. Behind him is a shelf with many mementoes and souvenirs, with several framed diplomas on a wall below the shelf.
California State University trustees appointed Fresno State president Joseph Castro as system chancellor on September 23, 2020.
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California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro resigned Thursday night following protests about his handling of sexual harassment claims during his previous post.

The allegations stem from Castro's time as president of Fresno State University. According to a USA Today investigation, Castro, along with the campus human resources department and the office that handles sex-based discrimination claims, received at least 12 complaints about then-Vice President for Student Affairs Frank Lamas over a period of six years. Those complaints include that Lamas touched women inappropriately, made sexist remarks and retaliated against employees.

The report also alleged that Castro never formally disciplined Lamas, and instead praised him in annual performance reviews and even endorsed him for a lifetime achievement award.

Earlier this week, faculty from Cal State Long Beach petitioned Castro to resign immediately. The educators said they don't trust him to uphold federal laws against gender discrimination.

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Lori Baralt, who chairs Cal State Long Beach’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, was among those who signed.

"When you hear a story like this, of how for six years it was happening right under him, and it was tolerated, that's just really demoralizing," she said. "You don't feel safe, you don't feel like this is somewhere where you can report something and it'd be taken seriously."

Castro, a California native who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, was the first person of Mexican descent to lead the 23-campus system. In his resignation letter, Castro said he disagreed with "many aspects of recent media reports and the ensuing commentary" but believed it was necessary for him to leave so the system can move forward:

As I know from my own lived experience, our state's and nation's diverse and talented young people – especially low-income and first-generation students — deserve access to the transformative power of higher education that so often can seem like an elusive dream. I remain forever committed to ensuring that those students — our future leaders — are able to achieve that dream for themselves, their families and their communities.

Earlier this month, CSU Board of Trustees chair Lillian Kimbell indicated that the board would launch an investigation into Castro's conduct.

What Accountability May Lie Ahead

The Board of Trustees next meets in late March. As part of Castro's resignation statement, the university announced it would launch a comprehensive examination "to provide insights, recommendations and resources to help advance CSU's Title IX and civil rights training, awareness, prevention, intervention, compliance, accountability, and support systems."

Executive Vice Chancellor and CFO Steve Relyea will serve as interim chancellor while the board searches for a new university leader.

Structural change is exactly what Beth Contreras, a third year student at Fresno State, wants to see. She was among dozens of students who protested at the campus, calling for the chancellor to resign. She's glad he's gone, but she says it's not enough.

"We're hoping that an open investigation, done externally by outside investigators, will expose the things [happening] behind closed doors," she said.

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CSU faculty echoed those sentiments.

"I mean, it's good that that Castro has resigned," said Karyl Ketchum, chair of Cal State Fullerton's Women & Gender Studies Department. "But the fact that he went through a hiring process to become chancellor of the biggest public university in our country and this didn't surface really paints a picture of the CSU as an old boys' club, where the mistreatment of women is being protected."

"I really hope faculty, staff and students keep the pressure up, because it wasn't just an individual problem with one person," added Baralt, the professor at Cal State Long Beach. "It's a structural problem. Sexual harassment is often still swept under the rug at universities based on the idea that they just want to keep their image. But our priority needs to be on keeping students, staff and faculty safe."

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Updated February 18, 2022 at 4:35 PM PST
This story was updated with additional reaction from students faculty members.
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