Systemwide reviews are changing these policies for future administrators.

On Jan. 30, an Orfalea College of Business (OCOB) student assistant noticed a co-worker packing cardboard boxes a few doors down, moving out of their office. They learned that the resigned CSU chancellor Joseph Castro would be taking the space.

“I guess we (OCOB) didn’t really get a say in this,” said the student assistant, who declined to be named in fear of retaliation from their employer. 

Joseph Castro stepped down as the CSU Chancellor one year ago, after a USA Today investigation revealed his failure to respond to sexual assault complaints during his seven-year employment as Fresno State president. The complaints were filed against one of his top administrators at the time, Frank Lamas.

Yet, the controversy surrounding Castro this past year has revealed systemic flaws in CSU policies for university executives and issues in Title IX enforcement.

Retreat rights are used as incentives and contingencies in some contracts for university employees, securing them a different role should they choose to step down. This includes administrators being ensured a tenured faculty position if they leave their role.

Castro has said in a statement that Lamas’ own retreat rights made it “complicated,” as his contract secured him retreat rights as a tenured professor at Fresno State. The CSU Chancellor’s Office has said Lamas’ situation is what sparked their updated policy for retreat rights.

On Feb. 18, Castro became an official employee at Cal Poly — and he’s starting out with a salary higher than the average among tenured business professors. Starting spring quarter, he’ll be teaching two lectures of Leading Social Innovations in Organizations (BUS 476).

“I am excited to join the Cal Poly faculty and look forward to teaching in the Spring Quarter,” Castro wrote in the email to Mustang News. Castro referred Mustang News to University Communications for any further questions.

After he stepped down, Castro and the CSU Board of Trustees agreed to a settlement, including a one-year transitional salary of $401,364, a year-long position as adviser to the Board and a six-month housing allowance of $7,917 granted per month, later agreed to be paid until August 2022.

In a February 2022 news release, Castro announced his “necessary” resignation, disagreeing with the USA Today investigation and the successive media coverage.

In addition to his settlement, Castro has been compensated for his moving expenses. When Castro moved from his job as president in Fresno to the CSU Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach, his moving expenses were fully funded by taxpayer money, according to receipts and invoices obtained from the Chancellor’s Office. When he moves to San Luis Obispo, he’ll be compensated for his expenses once again, the settlement additionally states.

His move from Fresno to Long Beach included expenses such as hotel room service, moving services, gas money and storage spaces — adding up to $65,980. According to his settlement, the expenses covered for his move to San Luis Obispo will not exceed his expenses when appointed as chancellor.

In his tenured position at Cal Poly, Castro’s salary is $165,564. In comparison, the median tenured business professor’s salary is $149,948. Most business professors that teach for more than eight years are tenured.

The Executive Transition Program explained

Castro’s initial agreement with his chancellor position included a welcome to the Executive Transition Program, granting him retreat rights to the university of his choice when he stepped down as chancellor. 

Currently, 21 of the 23 CSU presidents are a part of the same program, including Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong. Similar to Castro, if any chose to step down and exercise their retreat rights, the policy of the Executive Transition Program would apply.

“It is a common practice throughout higher education and in the CSU for university executives to be offered an appointment as a faculty member tied to their executive appointment,” Mike Uhlenkamp, senior director of public affairs at the CSU Chancellor’s office, said, referring to retreat rights.

According to the CSU faculty union’s secretary, Diane Blair, Castro isn’t the only one that the union felt has abused this power. One case included former San Jose State president Mary Parpizan, who received a message about sexual abuse perpetrated by an athletic trainer and failed to address the complaint. 

For Cal Poly’s campus community, the controversy over a new hire is nothing new — three years ago, Paulette Granberry Russell rescinded her acceptance to Cal Poly’s position of Vice President for Diversity and Inclusivity after an uproar from the student body. Russel was previously the Title IX coordinator at Michigan State University when former athletic doctor Larry Nassar sexually assaulted more than 150 young women. Armstrong condemned students in a campus-wide email for driving Russel out.

Both Castro and Russell formerly held executive positions when faced with sexual harassment complaints.

The retreat rights policy was repealed by the CSU Board of Trustees as of July 2022 in light of Fresno State officials’ mishandling of harassment complaints against Frank Lamas.

Now called “Executive Consulting Assignment,” the new policy gives universities the right to rescind retreat rights, given “there is a finding of misconduct or the administrator is under investigation for misconduct.” 

Since Castro joined the Executive Transition Program before the policy was changed, Cal Poly’s choice to rescind his retreat rights after investigation findings did not apply, and the university has said its required to honor the agreement.

When an executive chooses to apply and be accepted for retreat rights, the university to which they choose to retreat to must approve the person’s credentials through consultation with the faculty of the chosen program.

“Shortly after his appointment as chancellor, and after consultation with faculty on the campus, Dr. Castro’s opportunity to retreat to a faculty position in the Orfalea College of Business was approved,” Uhlenkamp wrote in an email. 

Failure to report violates Title IX protocol

When a public school, from K-12 to the university level, receives a formal complaint, the Title IX coordinator must file the complaint.

A formal complaint, or notice of sexual harassment, is known as “actual knowledge,” and if a school holds this information, there is a responsibility to address the filed complaint.  

“When a school has actual knowledge of sexual harassment in any of its programs or activities that take place in the United States, it must ‘respond promptly in a manner that is not deliberately indifferent,’” the Department of Education appendix on sexual harassment reads. 

Over the period in which Castro served as president, the Title IX office and HR departments received eight complaints. The first written, formal, complaint on Lamas was not filed until October 2019. 

The failure to report and address the complaint could lead to a violation of Executive Order 1096, which stresses the “duty to report,” meaning if certain professionals do not report instances of actual or suspected abuse, it is a crime. However, not all employees are required to report, such as counselors or physicians. 

At Fresno State, the failure to investigate five of the reports directly violated EO 1096, according to the Wegner Report, the CSU’s internal investigations of Castro’s mishandling. 

“With the exception of (one of the complaints), the President received or was contemporaneously aware of all reports,” the Wegner report states.

All employees can be “dismissed, demoted or suspended” for unprofessional and immoral conduct, according to California education code 89535.  

Although there have been no recent cases with the code, Cal Poly has used the code to discipline employees in the past when workplace bullying became hostile within the university. 

Frustration from the silence of Cal Poly’s administration on Castro’s arrival 

Elias Mandegarian, a business student and an OCOB representative for the ASI Board of Directors, noticed an “overwhelming majority” of students expressing “a tone of disdain and unhappiness” toward Castro’s arrival.  

“However, all of this was around the end of the fall quarter, and since then I have not seen or heard very much about it, especially after the resolution passed,” Mandegarian said. 

One month after Castro announced he would exercise his retreat rights, the Cal Poly Academic Senate also adopted a resolution in early November 2022.

Shortly after, the ASI Board of Directors adopted a resolution, establishing the student body stance against Castro’s decision to retreat and calling Cal Poly leadership to limit Castro’s powers as a tenured professor.

Despite the resolution passing, students feel that there was no voice from the university or the business college reciprocated. Some have also pointed out the lack of response from local community leaders and groups.

“It deeply saddens me to see the lack of response to the resolution from the powers that be. The only thing that we can do now is to spread awareness about Castro’s arrival and try our best to keep the student body informed.”

Elias Mandegarian, OCOB Representative ASI Board of Directors

Pushback on Castro’s decision is not limited to Cal Poly. The Fresno State and San Diego State Academic Senates passed no-confidence declarations in Castro. The CSU Long Beach Faculty Union called for Castro’s resignation in a February 2022 petition.

Castro’s mishandling of harassment complaints catalyzes change in the CSU

Shortly after Castro stepped down as chancellor, the CSU announced that there would be a Title IX review of the entire CSU system, further analyzing the practices at the Chancellor’s Office in addition to the 23 CSU universities. 

The systemwide review of Title IX in the CSU is being conducted by a law firm that has begun visiting each campus to gather feedback from students and staff.

“To that end, I am encouraged by the work we have done over the past year, including launching a systemwide review of Title IX compliance and community awareness of Title IX rights and responsibilities – and addressing the so-called ‘faculty retreat rights’ that complicated Dr. Lamas’ separation,” Castro addressed in a letter.

“As President of Fresno State, my decisions on Title IX matters were guided by campus and CSU system policies and protocol, the direction of my then Chancellor Timothy White and General Counsel Andrew Jones, my campus counsel and policy experts at Fresno State and in the Chancellor’s Office,” Castro wrote in response to the Wegner Report findings. 

Castro’s mishandlings as a university president are a sign of the greater system falling short to “ensure that our campuses are safe and welcoming environments,” Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester recognized in a letter. 

Cal Poly Faculty Union President Kawamura points out that Castro is not the only one at fault — also pointing out that Castro’s predecessor and former CSU Chancellor Timothy White should also be held accountable. 

“As President of Fresno State, my decisions on Title IX matters were guided by campus and California State University system policies and protocol,” Castro wrote in response to the Wegner Report findings.

Castro proceeds to cite the people he consulted: his predecessor and then-CSU Chancellor Timothy White, General Counsel Andrew Jones and campus counsel and policy experts from Fresno State and the Chancellor’s Office.

“A lot of people have made the argument that Castro’s taken all the heat when White did as much of the cover-up. White was aware of the situation and advised Castro to act the way that he did.” 

Lisa Kawamura, CFA SLO Chapter Union President

Now, a committee of board trustees, faculty and students from select CSU campuses are leading the search for a new chancellor.

The CSU website emphasizes that principles of “inclusivity, diversity, transparency, authentic consultation and confidentiality” will be supported throughout the CSU Chancellor search.

The student assistant working on the same floor as many administrators and lecturers in OCOB didn’t learn about Castro accepting his position until December 2022, despite it being announced early October.

The student said the news was “unsettling” — yet it remained unclear how the OCOB dean and co-workers felt about it, as many in the office didn’t discuss it.

“I know he didn’t necessarily do the things, but he didn’t enforce it — he let it slide,” the student assistant said. “So just knowing that, if I had a concern with something, my voice probably wouldn’t be heard.” 

This story comes from The Hill, a team of data analysts and reporters focused on data-driven and investigative stories at Mustang News. Click here to read more stories from The Hill.