California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro announced Thursday evening that he has resigned his position effective immediately, according to a news release from the CSU system.
“I have been honored to serve the California State University for more than eight years, including as its eighth chancellor, and the decision to resign is the most difficult of my professional life,” Castro said in the news release. “While I disagree with many aspects of recent media reports and the ensuing commentary, it has become clear to me that resigning at this time is necessary so that the CSU can maintain its focus squarely on its educational mission and the impactful work yet to be done.”
The media reports Castro referenced include a recent story in USA Today that accused him of covering up sexual harassment allegations against a top-ranking Fresno State administrator while Castro served as the university’s president. Frank Lamas was allowed to resign his position as vice president of student affairs and maintain his retirement benefits.
Castro became the eighth chancellor of CSU, the nation’s largest public university system, in January 2021 after serving as Fresno State’s eighth president. Castro was the first Valley native to be named to the top CSU post.
Apology Came After News Story
On Feb. 3, after the USA Today article was published, Castro issued a statement apologizing to the Fresno State community and those who were hurt by Lamas’ actions. CSU Board Chairwoman Lillian Kimbell issued her own statement, praising Castro for his apology and saying his “track record and deep support of Title IX are clear.” Title IX is a federal civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination.
But since then, there has been a rising chorus of voices, including from CSU Faculty Senates, urging Castro to resign. Several state lawmakers said they were launching probes into how Castro handled the sex misconduct complaints and Lamas.
On Thursday, Kimbell thanked Castro for his decision. “We appreciate Chancellor Castro’s cooperation with the Trustees and his decision to step down for the benefit of California State University system,” she said in the CSU news release.
Steve Relyea, executive vice chancellor and chief financial officer, will serve as acting chancellor until an interim leader is named. A succession plan to replace Castro is being finalized by the Board of Trustees.
The CSU news release said the board plans to launch an initiative to “bring CSU to the forefront of Title IX innovation, accountability, and response.”
Castro and Kimbell both said previously that the lack of formal complaints about Lamas made it difficult to launch Title IX probes, and that terminating employees without sufficient evidence can result in legal woes.
The Board of Trustees, at its March meeting, plans to hire representatives from Cozen O’Connor’s Institutional Response Group to conduct a comprehensive systemwide assessment. Cozen O’Connor is an international law firm, and the Institutional Response Group works with institutions facing sexual and gender-based harassment and violence and other forms of misconduct.
The assessment’s goal is to improve Title IX training, awareness, intervention, prevention, and compliance across the CSU. It will begin in March at Fresno State.
Castro a Valley Native
Castro, the grandson of Mexican immigrants and son of a single mother, was raised in Hanford and was the first in his family to graduate from college. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in higher education policy and leadership from Stanford University.
Prior to taking on Fresno State’s top job, Castro had worked 23 years in the University of California system, including vice chancellor of student academic affairs and professor of family and community medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.
When his appointment to the CSU Chancellor post was announced in September 2020, Kimbell praised him as a “passionate and effective advocate” for students, Fresno State, and the Cal State university system.
On Friday, two state lawmakers said Castro’s resignation was the right decision, but more work is still needed. Sen Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, chair of the Senate Education Committee, called on the CSU Board of Trustees to approve a “prompt and thorough investigation” of Castro’s actions before he became chancellor.
“Survivors of the abusive conduct and harassment — as well as the entire CSU community and public at large — deserve to know exactly what happened under Chancellor Castro’s watch at Fresno State,” Leyva said in a statement. “I am hopeful that the Board of Trustees will do the right thing by swiftly moving forward with an independent investigation into the shocking findings of the USA Today report. Survivors — and California taxpayers that have paid Chancellor Castro’s salary for many years — deserve answers.”
Should the board decide not to initiate an investigation, Leyva said she would convene a Senate Education Committee hearing to investigate the events that transpired at Fresno State.
Assemblymember Jose Medina, D-Riverside, chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, said Friday he will introduce legislation to strengthen Title IX and to ensure that officials review how candidates previously handled Title IX when they are being considered for leadership positions in the state’s universities.