ROHNERT PARK — Sonoma State University President Judy Sakaki and her husband, Patrick McCallum, are at the center of allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation being reported by The Press Democrat, The Los Angeles Times and other media.
The Sonoma State Star reports that the California State University system paid $600,000 to former SSU Provost and Executive Vice President Lisa Vollendorf as a settlement for retaliation that she claims occurred after she reported sexual harassment claims made against McCallum.
According to Vallendorf’s July 2021 claim, “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 …
“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. Dr. Vollendorf was forced to leave her position as SSU provost, rather than continue to be subjected to this hostile and retaliatory behavior.”
The university released the following statement on April 14: “Recent media coverage of Sonoma State University has raised questions about a personnel matter involving former Provost Dr. Lisa Vollendorf. During her three-year tenure as our provost, Dr. Vollendorf championed student, faculty, and staff success at Sonoma State University. Dr. Vollendorf also served the CSU through a special assignment in the CSU Chancellor’s Office from June 2020 to June 2021.
“Out of respect for Dr. Vollendorf’s privacy, the university will not comment on the particular circumstances of Dr. Vollendorf’s departure. We do, however, offer the following context.
“The media reported that Dr. Vollendorf believes she experienced retaliation due to her reporting Title IX complaints about President Sakaki’s spouse. These claims are without basis. CSU policy and federal and state law, as well as good judgment and common sense, prohibit retaliation against anyone bringing forward or participating in a complaint or complaint process.
“President Sakaki has devoted the last 40 years to championing equity and justice in higher education, and the CSU and President Sakaki deny that any retaliation occurred. The CSU entered into a settlement with Dr. Vollendorf so that campus leaders could devote their energy, resources, and efforts on what matters most, serving students and leading Sonoma State through and beyond the pandemic. The university has liability insurance coverage which is used to pay these kinds of legal settlements.
“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. CSU policy does not limit the time for making complaints, and if any individuals now wish to participate in a formal investigation of these complaints, they are encouraged to discuss their concerns and options with CSU Title IX professional staff … Alternatively, any member of the university community may meet with a confidential victim’s advocate to discuss their rights and options.
“Sonoma State University and President Sakaki will never stop working to make our campus a safe, supportive, respectful, and fair working and learning environment for all. There are many processes in place to support individuals who wish to report any concerns. Anyone wishing to come forward with a concern or complaint or to learn about university complaint and resolution processes, including rights and options, is encouraged to contact the following campus or Chancellor’s Office resources.”
The statement goes on to list contact information for the SSU Title IX Compliance Office, SSU Victim’s Advocate, SSU Human Resources Whistleblower, and related offices.
On the same day, Sakaki read the following statement during a meeting with faculty and staff: “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.”
On April 17, The Press Democrat published a rambling email from McCallum in which he denied the allegations. It read, in part: “When we first arrived I totally missed that a president spouse is perceived to have more power and influence that i had and I should of acted like i do with my staff or in a professional setting rather than feeling as a volunteer. I interacted with staff and students as if they were my friends. Judy would hug everybody and after they hug Judy they would hug me. I am curious, outgoing, big personality, and had excitement as being a volunteer to help Judy and the campus.”
He also argued that his accusers were using him in an effort to get his wife fired.
On April 18, Sakaki announced that she and her husband were separating. In a statement published by The Press Democrat, she said: “At this time, I have made the difficult personal decision to separate from Patrick. This past weekend, Patrick sent an inaccurate and unauthorized email to friends and family. The email was sent without my knowledge or consent and does not reflect my viewpoint. I consider the matters between Dr. Vollendorf and me to be resolved.”
Sakaki was appointed Sonoma State’s seventh president in January 2016. Previously, she served as vice president of student affairs in the University of California Office of the President.
I cry ******. If you ever worked at SSU, one would understand the heavy hand Sukaki rules under the guise of “this is (great) for the student.” I have absolutely no doubt she would allow her husbands role in this and her retaliation against Lisa.