Joseph I. Castro, once a rising star in higher education who resigned under pressure last month as California State University’s chancellor, will receive nearly $450,000 as part of a settlement announced on Friday. Castro left the post after evidence surfaced that he had rewarded, rather than punished, a top official found responsible for sexual harassment and bullying.
Castro will earn a $401,364 salary through February 2023 during a yearlong “executive transition program,” according to the agreement, shared with The Chronicle. During that time, he’ll be an adviser to the university system’s Board of Trustees. The salary was calculated as the midpoint between his final salary as chancellor and the highest pay for a tenured professor.
After February 2023 he will have the option, negotiated when he was named chancellor, in September 2020, to join the faculty at a system campus, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, as a tenured professor of leadership and public policy. He will also receive a $7,917 monthly housing allowance for the next six months, totaling $47,502.
Large payouts to college leaders who resign under a cloud aren’t uncommon. In 2016, Baylor University handed a $4.5-million severance package to Kenneth W. Starr. In 2019 the University of Central Florida negotiated a $600,000 severance package with its former president, Dale Whittaker.
In both cases the universities had to buy the former leaders out of tenured contracts. Castro has not yet indicated whether he plans to exercise his so-called faculty-retreat rights at Cal State. If he does, he’s likely to encounter some resistance. In an editorial last month, The Fresno Bee wrote that allowing Castro to return to a tenured-faculty position would be “an outrage.”
“If the California State University is to regain any credibility,” it wrote, “Joseph Castro cannot teach at Cal Poly.”
The California Faculty Association called the settlement “outrageous and irresponsible.”
“It sends a message that the CSU Board of Trustees endorses rewarding bad behavior when it comes to our administrators,” the group said in a prepared statement. “Trustees are more interested in business as usual and damage control than they are in addressing severe and systemic harassment and abuse across the CSU.”
The text of the agreement between Castro and Cal State
As part of the settlement, Castro agreed not to sue the university and to cooperate with any investigations related to his role as chancellor of the 23-campus CSU system or as president of its Fresno campus. The Board of Trustees has commissioned an independent investigation into how the Cal State system, as well as Castro specifically, handled complaints of sexual harassment. It was during Castro’s presidency in Fresno that the controversy erupted that would lead to his resignation. It involved his response to years of complaints against Frank Lamas, a vice president for student affairs whom Castro had personally recruited in 2014. A Title IX complaint filed in 2019 resulted in a finding that Lamas had sexually harassed an employee.
Instead of firing him, Castro signed an agreement with Lamas that included a $260,000 payout, retirement benefits, a clean record, and a promise of a glowing recommendation. Castro said that settlement, under which Lamas agreed to never again work for CSU, was the only way he could ensure that Lamas would leave because he, too, had faculty-retreat rights. Castro further contended there was nothing he could do until a formal complaint had been filed — a contention that Title IX experts disputed.
Lamas has maintained that he did nothing wrong and that university investigators had failed to consider years of positive performance reviews and testimony from his supporters.