Report Finds Serious Shortcomings in Cal State’s Handling of Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Complaints

A new report has found major flaws with the way the country’s largest public university system handles sexual misconduct complaints.

Cozen O’Connor law firm was hired to investigate the implementation of Title IX and anti-discrimination and harassment programs within the California State University System. The assessment was approved after revelations that former Chancellor Joseph I. Castro had mishandled a sexual misconduct scandal at Fresno State. Subsequent investigations uncovered systemic problems with sexual harassment and a lack of accountability at Cal State schools. 

Employees from Cozen O’Connor reviewed records and interviewed students, faculty, and staff across Cal State’s 23 campuses. Surveys were conducted from December 2022 to February 2023, eliciting some 18,000 responses.

Accountability measures are nearly absent because the university lacks resources, the report found. Those tasked with overseeing Title IX compliance also handle myriad responsibilities, making resolution of complaints difficult. 

The report found no systemwide tracking of sexual misconduct complaints by the chancellor’s office. Furthermore, the report flagged insufficient management of records, a lack of preventive and educational measures, and an overall air of distrust toward senior leadership. Only “a relatively small percentage of cases” are ever formally investigated, let alone resolved," according to the findings. 

The report’s recommendations include additional resources (funds) and the creation of an oversight and accountability office, which would be staffed with trained investigators.

CSU Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester issued the following statement after the report:

I thank Cozen O'Connor's Institutional Response Group for its methodical, inclusive and comprehensive assessment of the California State University's implementation of​ Title IX and other anti-discrimination programs across our 23 universities and at the Chancellor's Office. 

I also thank the many CSU employees who supported Cozen's work on our university campuses and at the system office. 

But most important, I offer my heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to the many CSU students, faculty and staff who – courageously and, undoubtedly, sometimes painfully – provided their input to help guide this critically important work.

As is often the case with honest, frank and unflinching self-reflection, some of the findings were uncomfortable and difficult to hear. Many of the report's recommendations are challenging and complex, influenced by a multitude of interconnected factors, including deep-rooted and underlying societal issues.

It is clear: This work will take time. It will take significant resources. And it will require the Chancellor's Office to reconsider its role in terms of its oversight and support of our universities in this regard. I'll provide just one example on this point. It is evident that allegations made against campus executive leadership must be referred to the Chancellor's Office.

While the work will indeed be difficult, it also presents a unique and invaluable opportunity to strengthen our culture of compliance and our culture of care as we strive to create and sustain safe, welcoming and inclusive environments across the CSU, where students, faculty and staff can thrive personally, professionally and intellectually, free from discrimination, harassment and sexual misconduct.

I state this in the strongest and most unequivocal terms: The CSU is committed to this work. The systemwide and university recommendations outlined in the full report to be published in the coming weeks will provide a vital and necessary path forward, and they will hold us accountable to our commitment. But make no mistake, to bring about meaningful, authentic and sustainable change, the entire Cal State community – trustees, Chancellor's Office and university leadership, Title IX and DHR professionals, faculty, staff, students, alumni, friends and supporters – must walk this path together.

We will not squander this opportunity. We will get this right. The CSU's mission and core values demand it.