SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The former chancellor of California State University, the nation’s largest public university system, mishandled sexual misconduct allegations while he headed the Fresno campus, according to a report released Thursday.
Joseph I. Castro failed to deal properly with complaints against Frank Lamas while Castro was Fresno State's president because he had a “blind spot” for his friend, according to the results of a months-long investigation commissioned by the CSU system.
Lamas, the campus vice president of student affairs from mid-July 2014 until his retirement in 2020, was recruited by Castro, according to the report.
During his tenure, the campus received at least nine complaints that Lamas improperly touched women, made sexist comments and harassed or retaliated against workers, the report said.
Most of the complaints were informal or anonymous. The report said some involved behavior that wasn’t specifically barred by the system’s policy prohibiting sexual or other harassment of employees.
No action was taken against Lamas until a formal complaint was filed in 2019, when he was barred from campus and later found to have violated a CSU harassment policy.
While Castro and others repeatedly talked to Lamas, counseling him not to engage in such conduct, the president “consistently did not take any significant action against but instead supported Lamas throughout his employment even in the face of multiple allegations, growing evidence, and ultimately, confirmed findings of Lamas’ alleged misconduct,” the report said.
From 2016 through 2019, Castro made eight recommendations of Lamas for presidential positions both inside and outside the CSU system without making reference to the misconduct complaints, the report said.
Lamas, who has denied the misconduct allegations, retired in 2020 as part of a settlement agreement granting him a $260,000 payment equivalent to a year’s salary and barring him from CSU work. The settlement, which was approved by the CSU chancellor at the time, didn't violate system policies and there were legitimate reasons for supporting it, including the risk and cost if Lamas sued, the report said.
However, Castro acted inappropriately when he agreed to write Lamas a “very positive” letter of recommendation to help find work elsewhere, the report said.
Castro disputed the report’s findings in a statement issued Thursday and cited by the Los Angeles Times, saying he had made decisions based on the advice of CSU’s lawyer and previous chancellor.
“I have been a steadfast champion for gender equity throughout my career and will redouble my efforts in this important area going forward,” Castro said.
The 10-page report was conducted by a law firm that also investigated Lamas.
Castro was appointed chancellor of the CSU system in 2020. He was the first Mexican American and native Californian to lead the system. He resigned in February after a USA TODAY investigation published Feb. 3 questioned his handling of misconduct complaints against Lamas.
The Cal State system is the largest four-year public university system in the country with 23 campuses, more than 477,000 students and 56,000 faculty and staff, according to its website.