“So disappointing, so discouraging, so demoralizing.”
Those are the words of Michaela Grobbel, a professor of German at Sonoma State University and a senator-at-large, representing all faculty, in the University’s Academic Senate.
On April 13, the Press Democrat published revelations that Sonoma State had paid a former administrator $600,000 to settle a dispute after Lisa Vollendorf, a former university provost, claimed that the president of the SSU, Judy Sakaki, had retaliated against her following Vollendorf’s reporting on Sakaki’s husband, Patrick McCallum, a lobbyist and present at campus events, for sexual harassment.
“We learned from the media, not from academic communication. And it was a shock.” said Grobbel.
While Grobbel said news of the settlement surprised staff and the campus community, it painted a broader picture of the systemic dysfunction of the university’s leadership.
“Confidence in his leadership had already started to blur in recent years because of declining enrollment and all these ongoing budget crises, the clearly visible high turnover of trustees. And so many new administrative positions had been created.” said Grobbel.
In an April 14 statement, the university denied any retaliation by Sakaki against former provost Vollendorf and clarified that the initial complaints against McCallum had been deemed “without merit”, following an investigation in 2019. Yet , Grobbel said the scandal had left the campus community scared.
“It’s all related to Title IX procedures and many faculty, many students, and many staff just don’t feel safe because it’s clear the reporting structure has gone awry.” said Grobbel.