Student management

Conversely, Sonoma State says student tuition will help pay for a $600,000 settlement over reports of harassment

Nearly half of the $600,000 settlement Sonoma State University reached with a former provost to settle a retaliation claim related to President Judy Sakaki will be paid for by the school, the campus announced Monday.

The university sent its message to all employees and students to clarify the amount of the settlement covered by its insurance versus the amount to be paid by the school.

Funds from student tuition and fees, as well as other sources, will be used to cover $250,000 – SSU’s insurance deductible – according to the campus announcement.

It was a reversal of remarks made two weeks ago by a campus spokeswoman, who stressed that no tuition or student fees would be taken to cover the settlement.

Sakaki and SSU spokeswoman Julia Gonzalez, assistant vice president for strategic communications, did not respond to questions Monday about the campus announcement and what led to it.

The university said the announcement follows “additional review of Sonoma State’s participation in the (California State University) Self-Insurance Risk Funding Program.”

The remainder of the settlement is expected to be paid through the shared insurance pool for the 23-campus CSU system.

The update comes as the school faces a $15-17 million deficit, fueling a contentious budget process in which positions and programs are at stake. On Thursday, the Academic Senate will consider a possible vote of no confidence teachers towards Sakaki’s leadership.

Talena Sanders, an associate professor in the department of communications and media involved in the effort to pass the vote of no confidence, called the news of the additional costs to SSU “disheartening.”

“Students and their families are not choosing Sonoma State to help foot the bill for the President’s inappropriate behavior,” she said in a text message. “To be frank, I wonder how many more headlines and revelations our campus will have to contend with before President Sakaki chooses ethics over ego and steps down.”

Lisa Vollendorf, who served as provost at Sonoma State University from 2017 to June 2020, received the $600,000 settlement to resolve a July 2021 claim she filed with the CSU system. Her claim stated that Sakaki had retaliated against her in response to information Vollendorf had made about sexual harassment complaints filed by SSU employees against Patrick McCallum, Sakaki’s husband.

Sakaki denied retaliation and McCallum denied wrongdoing. Sakaki has declined repeated interview requests since The Press Democrat first reported the settlement on April 13. On Saturday, she was absent from the spring showcase at the Rohnert Park campus for prospective students.

Gonzalez said Sonoma State agreed to the $600,000 settlement because officials wanted to “avoid resorting to costly and protracted litigation,” but the settlement itself was not an admission of wrongdoing. .

Of the total amount, $500,000 will go directly to Vollendorf, according to the agreement, and $100,000 will be used to cover its attorney fees.

Previously, Gonzalez told The Press Democrat that no tuition or student fees would be used to cover the cost of the settlement.

“It’s really important for people to know that the settlement is not paid from tuition or student fees,” Gonzalez said on April 13. “The university has insurance to cover settlements like this.”

However, Monday’s announcement says the funds used to cover the deductible “are, in fact, funded by revenue streams that include student tuition and fees, and corporate activities such as parking. , student housing costs, professional and continuing education and retail functions”.

The bulk of the deductible — $150,000 — will come from a post to cover potential legal settlements, the statement said. The remaining $100,000 “is expected to come from a contingency item in the university’s budget,” the Sonoma State message said.

The Press Democrat asked for more information about the sources of income for those positions but did not receive a response from the university on Monday.

Tim Smith, an adjunct professor and former mayor of Rohnert Park, said the university’s initial statements about the role insurance would play in covering settlement costs were misleading.

“The whole idea that it was free, as implied in the April 13 statement, was ridiculous,” he said. Seeing the franchise update on Monday, he wondered, “Who got them to confess?

Sonoma State pays the CSU System Risk Management Authority, “an insurance pool that funds the resolution of claims,” ​​according to the campus message.

Smith, a local attorney, pointed out that a six-figure settlement would likely result in higher insurance rates for Sonoma State.

“I don’t know why (this news came out), I’m just glad it did,” he said. “I don’t know who sought to educate them to be clearer.”

You can reach editor Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or [email protected] On Twitter @ka_tornay.