Judy Sakaki

ROHNERT PARK — Judy K. Sakaki, Ph.D. announced June 6 that she will resign as president of Sonoma State University (SSU) effective July 31.

The CSU Board of Trustees will thereafter begin a national search for the eighth president of SSU. An interim president will be announced shortly.

According to Inside Higher Education and other publications, Sakaki announced in April that she is separating from her husband, Patrick McCallum, a lobbyist for higher education, who has been accused of sexually harassing women. The university paid $600,000 this year to settle a complaint by Lisa Vollendorf, a former provost, who reported on the harassment and said the university didn’t do enough about her complaint.

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.”

Sakaki denied the allegations, which included making defamatory statements about Vollendorf and withholding a letter of recommendation.

In a statement in April, Sakaki also said, “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.”

In announcing that she had made “the difficult personal decision” to separate from McCallum, her spouse of about seven years, Sakaki said, “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.”

Many at Sonoma State have criticized Sakaki for not doing more about the allegations against McCallum. The Faculty Senate voted no confidence in Sakaki in May. State Sens. Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) called for Sakaki to step down.

“With President Sakaki’s resignation, Sonoma State University can move forward to restore trust and meet the challenges ahead,” said Dodd. “The chancellor/Board of Trustees must pick a permanent replacement who advances transparency and diversity — hallmarks of this great university.”

“Serving as Sonoma State president has truly been an honor. After thoughtful reflection and discussions with my family, I made the decision to step away as president of this wonderful campus,” Sakaki said in a statement that did not address the controversy.

“I care deeply about Sonoma State and believe this choice will allow the campus community to move forward in a timely manner. I am incredibly grateful to the entire SSU and the North Bay communities for the opportunity to serve during such a challenging and transformative time at Sonoma State. Our students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners have been exceptional, and I will forever treasure my time serving as SSU president. I am humbled and honored to have led this campus for the past six years.”

Sakaki became the seventh president and the second woman to have served as president in the university’s 62 years. She is also the first Japanese American woman to serve as a university president in the U.S.

During her tenure, she transformed Sonoma State into a student success-focused campus. First-year student graduation rates have steadily improved, and the two-year transfer graduation rate is the highest in the California State University system.

In her first year, SSU gained federal recognition as an Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI) and secured a Department of Education $2.75 million grant to Prepare Underrepresented Educators to Realize their Teaching Ambitions (PUERTA).

She led the campus in the aftermath of the destructive Tubbs wildfire where 80 faculty, staff and students lost their homes. Sakaki lost her home, possessions and nearly her life. After the fires, the campus reopened with a “Gratitude Gathering” and she expressed pride in the culture of care that enabled all affected by the fires to resume their studies and work at the campus.

During her tenure, Sakaki strengthened community engagement at the university, including at the Green Music Center. She opened the Wine Spectator Learning Center and championed the Wine Industry Scholars Program (WISP) where family members of vineyard workers are encouraged to attend college and are provided with four-year scholarships.

Sakaki developed a partnership with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Tribal Council that enabled the expansion of the Summer Bridge Program and other initiatives. She created the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) and prioritized diversity and inclusion efforts on campus.

Under Sakaki’s leadership, the Center for Transfer and Transition Programs, Dream Center, Lobo’s Pantry, Military and Veteran Resource Center, Seawolf Service Center and the Center for Academic Access and Student Enrichment (CAASE) were all created to better serve students. Additionally, philanthropy and grant funding support all have grown during her tenure.

Sakaki has served for over 40 years in various administrative positions in the California State University (East Bay, Fresno, Chancellor’s Office) and in the University of California (Davis, Office of the President).

At her presidential investiture, then Ohio State President and now UC President Michael Drake, a mentor of Sakaki’s, praised her as “one of the bright stars of the education galaxy.” In 2017, Sakaki was named “President of the Year” by the California State Student Association (CSSA). CSSA President David Lopez said, “Dr. Sakaki’s compassion and human touch, along with her stellar leadership, set her apart.”

She was also honored as a National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) “Pillar of the Profession” in 2017, an award given to exemplary individuals who have served as leaders, teachers and scholars in student affairs and higher education.

Additionally, Sakaki was a founding board member of Asian Pacific Americans in Higher Education (APAHE), received the NASPA Region VI President’s Award in 2018, and was the Asian Pacific Islander (API) Legislative Caucus honoree for Excellence in Education in 2020.

Sakaki is a double alumna of the CSU, having earned both a bachelor’s degree in human development and master’s degree in educational psychology from CSU East Bay. She holds a Ph.D. in education from UC Berkeley.

“As someone who grew up in East Oakland, who was a first-generation college student, whose parents and grandparents were forced into internment camps because of their Japanese ancestry and who later earned the opportunity to become the first Japanese American woman to lead an American university, I am living proof of the power of higher education. I look forward to my continued involvement in opening doors and transforming the lives of individuals, families and communities through education,” said Sakaki.

“Throughout her career in higher education, President Sakaki has demonstrated a steadfast passion for the transformative power of a college degree,” stated Chancellor Jolene Koester. “We are grateful for her many years of service in higher learning, including at Sonoma State and Fresno State.”

Wenda Fong, chair of the CSU Board of Trustees, stated, “President Sakaki broke the leadership glass ceiling in academia by being the first Japanese American woman to serve as a university president in the United States. We thank her for the contributions she has made to student success at Sonoma State University and wish her the very best with her coming endeavors.”

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