The chancellor of the Long Beach-based California State University system Friday defended his handling of a 2020 settlement agreement with a Fresno State administrator who was accused of sexual harassment, but said he regrets agreeing to write him a glowing letter of reference.
Joseph Castro’s handling of the allegations against then-Fresno State Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Frank Lamas were the subject of a lengthy report this week by USA Friday that questioned the settlement agreement.
As part of the agreement, Castro, who was president of Fresno State at the time, wrote a letter of reference for Lamas that included high praise for his management skills.
In a letter issued late Friday to the CSU community, Castro reiterated earlier comments that he was “deeply and profoundly sorry” for the pain caused by Lamas’ “behavior and actions.”
Lamas was accused in 2019 of repeatedly inappropriately touching a female employee, allegations that an internal university investigation determined to be credible.
In his Friday letter, Castro insisted the university “acted immediately” when the complaint was filed.
“To protect the campus community, he was removed from campus within four days,” Castro wrote. “We then entered into settlement negotiations for two fundamental reasons: to permanently separate Dr. Lamas from campus as quickly as possible — without a prolonged legal fight — and to bar him permanently from future employment at Fresno State or any CSU campus. As part of the settlement agreement, which was mediated by a respected retired federal judge, I was required to provide Dr. Lamas with a letter of reference. I did so, and included language mentioning the progress the campus had made on student success and outcomes during his tenure. In hindsight, while my motives were to expedite Dr. Lamas’ permanent removal from the CSU, I regret agreeing to this aspect of the settlement, knowing that it caused additional pain.”
Castro apologized for “any additional hurt and understandable frustration brought about by aspects of the mediated settlement agreement.”
“I want you — the entire Cal State community — to know that your health, safety and well-being are my first priority,” he wrote. “This includes fostering and sustaining an environment free from sexual harassment and all other forms of sexual misconduct. And it also means respectfully and intentionally holding space for all those affected by this behavior.”
He noted that the CUS has begun a systemwide review of Title IX compliance.
“But of course, we must do so much more — to strengthen our survivor support services; to sharpen the tools we have to quickly and effectively respond to incidents that occur; and to appropriately address legal, administrative and procedural barriers that can impede action,” he wrote.