No-confidence votes pass against 3 presidents, including Sonoma State’s Sakaki

The president of Cal State Los Angeles is also under fire for his alleged inaction after a faculty member and Black Lives Matter leader was removed from an event by campus police.

The majority of faculty at Sonoma State University have issued a no-confidence vote against President Judy Sakaki over several recent controversies, including sexual harassment accusations against her husband, Patrick McCallum.

Sakaki also has come under fire for her handling of the university’s budget, decreasing enrollment numbers, allegations of retaliation against a former provost who made claims about McCallum and a 2017 fire at her home in which several pieces of university artwork perished. Faculty were split in their decision, although more than 60% agreed that Sakaki is not fit to be president.

Two state senators, Bill Dodd and Mike McGuire, issued a statement saying the 69-year-old Sakaki should resign. “The faculty has spoken, and it’s time for the healing process to begin. President Sakaki should step down for the greater good of the university.”

Meanwhile, down the state, the Academic Senate voted in favor of a no-confidence vote against California State University at Los Angeles President William Covino, who they said failed to denounce the actions of campus police who removed tenured professor and Black Lives Matter leader Dr. Melina Abdullah from a mayoral debate at CSU-LA because she did not have a ticket during a mayoral debate. “You’re hurting me,” Abdullah can be heard saying several times as she is lifted out of the venue. Covino said he has launched an investigation into police actions that day. Of the 44 senate members who participated, “40 voted no confidence, two voted against the resolution, and two abstained,” according to a university officials.

And in Georgia, a slim majority of faculty who cast a vote on Monday say Piedmont University President James Mellichamp should step down. According to several published reports, there have been budget and enrollment troubles, layoffs and numerous lawsuits involving the university over the past few years. Mellichamp has been at the university for 40 years, including the past 10 as president.

The Sakaki saga … and others

In Northern California, Sakaki is facing intense pressure after several complaints were levied by female employees against McCallum, a state lobbyist and volunteer on campus, saying he had harassed them. The university came to a reported $600,000 settlement agreement with former provost Lisa Vollendorf, who claimed she was one of the victims and was retaliated against for coming forward. Sakaki and McCallum both denied claims. Sakaki announced her separation from McCallum last month.

Sakaki has not yet addressed the no-confidence vote, but did issue a statement in late April addressing “new beginnings and transformations” and hinting that she had the backing of at least some in the Sonoma State community.

“I’ve heard two recurring themes: personal support (for which I am truly grateful) and the need to clearly restate our values and articulate our immediate priorities,” she wrote. “As your president, I have the ultimate responsibility for doing everything possible to maintain a community that is free of sexual harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. I reiterate: If anyone has an incident or harm to report, I encourage you to do so. I include a list of the available resources for you at the end of this message.”

More from UB: The steps Cal State is taking to try to rebuild after two scandals

Asian-American faculty members issued a statement addressed to Sakaki during the voting process, which lasted several days, asking that the Sonoma State community look at all facts before making a decision.

“We acknowledge the frustration, anger, and loss of confidence being expressed,” several faculty members and leaders wrote. “That said, we call on our fellow SSU faculty and staff to bring an intersectional lens to bear upon how we understand the various issues at hand. We call on our SSU community to pause, take a breath, and examine what we know and do not know. We call on our SSU community to continue to engage in critical thinking and analysis as we navigate this situation.”

The vote came in at 173 for no-confidence in Sakaki, with 105 saying she should remain in her position. Despite the turmoil surrounding her tenure—and the struggles in some areas, including budget deficits—Sakaki said she does not envision the university having to impose layoffs and is working like other state universities on new initiatives to stem lower enrollment. Under Sakaki, chosen five years ago as President of the Year by the California State Student Association, Sonoma’s graduation rates have increased for both undergraduates and transfers. She said, “As we look ahead, you have my promise that I will work every single day for the best interests of our faculty, staff, students, and our larger campus community.”

The Sakaki saga is one of several involving sexual misconduct facing the California State University community, which are outlined in detail in a recent report from EdSource. Among them is the fallout of former CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro and former San Jose State President Mary Papazian.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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