A bill introduced in the California State Senate on Feb. 17 would increase oversight at some of the Golden State’s most prestigious colleges. Senate Bill 808 was filed a year to the day after a sexual misconduct scandal forced the California State University chancellor to resign, and it takes aim at a practice known as “retreating” that allows administrators accused of sexual harassment to withdraw quietly and with their reputations intact. The lawmaker who filed the bill said more transparency is needed in the CSU system to win back lost trust, and he referred to the school’s handling of sexual harassment and sexual violence complaints as “woefully inadequate.”
On the record
If it is passed, SB 808 will require CSU vice chancellors, vice presidents and campus presidents to go on the record when they sign off on sexual harassment settlements. It will also deny faculty jobs to CSU administrators who have been disciplined for sexual misconduct. To ensure transparency, lawmakers will be notified about all sexual harassment complaints and investigations. A CSU spokesperson said the bill serves little purpose because most of the issues it seeks to tackle have already been addressed. CSU trustees banned retreating in 2022.
The bill’s timing
The bill was filed a year after a newspaper investigation rocked CSU. The chancellor was forced to resign after reporters discovered that a top administrator had been accused of sexual harassment more than a dozen times. A report submitted by a law firm called in by the school to investigate the allegations noted the administrator’s “abusive behavior” and the “culture of fear” he created. The school settled the cases discretely but declined to take disciplinary action against the administrator. Instead, the CSU chancellor recommended the man for a lifetime achievement award and allowed him to retire quietly.
Above the rules
The culture of fear that is mentioned in the law firm’s report describes the atmosphere that grows in organizations when egregious behavior goes unpunished. This bill seeks to restore trust in the nation’s largest public university system, and CSU administrators should welcome and embrace it.