How common is sexual harassment at Cal State?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La August 7, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Southern California Gas Company and Earthjustice

How common is sexual harassment at Cal State?

The sexual misconduct scandal at California State University brought down one chancellor and looms as a huge challenge for the new leader.

But how bad is the situation at America’s largest public university system?

No one really knows — and the two most detailed looks at the problem came up with very different numbers.

As CalMatters’ higher education reporter Mikhail Zinshteyn explains, two reports were released in late July. One, requested by state legislators and conducted by the California State Auditor, tallied 1,246 Cal State employees at the university’s 23 campuses who were accused of some kind of improper sexual conduct from 2018 to 2022. Another report by Cozen O’Connor, a law firm the California State University Chancellor’s Office hired last year, found 452 in four academic years (2018-19 to 2021-22).

There are a number of reasons for the discrepancy: Among other things, the reports covered slightly different time periods, the state auditor included additional categories of unwanted sexual conduct, campuses didn’t use the same software to track incidents and cases weren’t always logged the same way.

Both organizations concluded Cal State collects insufficient and imprecise data. In its report, the state auditor said the system lacks “meaningful analysis” to “identify and respond to concerning trends.” And Cozen wrote that “the current process for collecting data does not result in consistent, reliable data across the system.”

The reports do little to reassure students in higher education who are victims of rampant sexual harassment at U.S. college campuses. According to a 2019 survey of 33 universities, including three in California, more than 40% of all students reported experiencing a form of sexual harassment since entering college. Without accurate data, writes Mikhail, Cal State won’t be able to spot trends in specific locations or academic programs, or be able to discern if one person is at the center of multiple complaints.

Proper resources, including counseling centers staffed with sexual assault support advocates, are few and far between among California public colleges and universities. Many of the Cal State’s largest campuses rely on a single survivor advocate to serve the entire student population. The 30,000 students at Sacramento State and at Cal Poly Pomona, for example, are served by only one advocate. 

And while some California colleges are experimenting with restorative justice in their approach to campus sexual assault and harassment, there is concern that the model is not always appropriate for campus sexual assault cases due to the power dynamics among staff and students.

In response to the reports, Cal State estimates it’ll spend $25 million in 2024-25 (and unknown amounts after that) to adopt system-wide changes, such as updating software, training more investigators and hiring more staff to track these incidents.


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1 Students take long view on strike

Teddy Alvarez-Nissen, a film student at the University of Southern California, pickets outside Netflix headquarters in Loas Angeles on July 24, 2023. He wants to work in the movie and tv space in the future and wants to see a sustainable future for the industry. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters
Film student Teddy Alvarez-Nissen pickets outside Netflix headquarters in Los Angeles on July 24, 2023. Photo by Lauren Justice for CalMatters

Speaking of students, Ryan Loyola of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network explains how the recent Hollywood strikes have caused not only adjacent industries (such as marketing, accounting and catering companies) to grind to a halt, but also led major production companies to postpone their college internship and fellowship programs

Rather than feeling frustrated, however, students Ryan spoke to said the strikes have shaken them out of their overly-romantic perception of Hollywood. They hope the strikes will help improve their working conditions by the time they graduate and break into the industry.

  • Teddy Alvarez-Nissen, third-year film student at the University of Southern California: “Even if the strike makes it more difficult for me to do an internship and find work out of college and start my career, I think that’s very miniscule compared to the benefits of a successful strike and getting those terms met.”

On Friday, the writers’ guild and studios representatives met to discuss union concerns, which include streaming rights compensation, health benefits and the unregulated use of artificial intelligence, but failed to make any headway.

There have been some attempts in the Legislature to boost protections for entertainment industry workers. In 2021, Democratic Assemblymember Ash Kalra of San Jose introduced a bill that would have prohibited the practice of banning actors who work on episodic series from working for multiple employers. The measure failed to get out of the Senate, and Kalra acknowledges that the larger issue of fair pay isn’t evolving with technological advances, particularly around AI.  

  • Kalra: “Current contracts with writers or actors don’t reflect the new world of entertainment production. There’s wild profits being made by the studios and workers are recognizing that this new way of production hasn’t been modernized to reflect their work.”

2 Devil in debate details

From left, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photos by Rebecca Blackwell, AP Photo and Miguel Gutierrez Jr, CalMatters
From left, Florida Gov. Ron Desantis and California Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photos by Rebecca Blackwell, AP Photo and Miguel Gutierrez Jr, CalMatters

Before California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis can finally rumble, they have to agree on the ground rules. And it’s not quite a done deal yet, though the announcement could happen as soon as Wednesday.

 After Team Newsom made a formal offer on July 28, DeSantis accepted the challenge last week. But the DeSantis camp wants some changes in the particulars. According to the Aug. 4 memo obtained by Politico, here’s the tale of the tape so far:

On the same page:

  • Basics: 90 minutes, live on Fox News.
  • Moderator: Sean Hannity, who is supposed to make sure the two participants don’t interrupt each other. 
  • Closing statements: Two minutes, order decided by coin flip.

Still TBD:

  • Audience: Newsom wants none; DeSantis proposes a live crowd, tickets divided 50-50.
  • Date: Newsom suggests Nov. 8 or Nov. 10; DeSantis says he’s available Sept. 19, Oct. 17, Oct. 18 or Nov. 8.
  • Location: Newsom says Nevada, Georgia or North Carolina; DeSantis suggests Georgia or Iowa.
  • Opening statements: Newsom wants them; DeSantis wants two-minute introductory videos instead.

Newsom adviser Nathan Click did not respond kindly to the DeSantis counter-offer, according to Politico. Click called it “a joke” and “littered with crutches to hide his insecurity and ineptitude.”

  • Click, in a statement: “Ron should be able to stand on his own two feet. It’s no wonder Trump is kicking his ass.”

Presuming an agreement is reached, the debate offers a national stage for the two governors to brag about, and defend, their states, their policies and their parties. The face-off also presents potential risks and rewards for both, particularly DeSantis, whose presidential campaign is floundering, despite the mounting legal troubles of frontrunner and former President Donald Trump.

The first Republican primary debate is Aug. 23, followed by one at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley on Sept. 27, two days before both DeSantis and Trump are set to speak to the California Republican Party in Anaheim.

3 A long, dangerous wait at border

Migrants wait in line to receive toiletry items at Moviemiento Juventud 2000 in Tijuana, Mexico on July 26, 2023. Photo by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters
Migrants wait in line to receive toiletry items at Moviemiento Juventud 2000 in Tijuana, Mexico on July 26, 2023. Photo by Adriana Heldiz, CalMatters

For some immigrants seeking asylum between the Mexico-California border, the Biden administration’s requirement to book appointments through a smartphone application is making it more difficult to cross the border legally, reports Wendy Fry from CalMatters’ California Divide team.

Aiming to streamline the asylum process, the Biden administration launched the Customs and Border Protection phone app in October 2020, requiring asylum seekers to secure appointments through the CBP One app. But in July, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that the administration cannot restrict how individuals apply for asylum, which includes the use of the app.

As the issue remains tangled up in courts, immigration advocates say this waiting game contributes to increased risks at the border, with migrants risking drowning and high heat to attempt irregular crossings into the U.S.

A delegate for Mexico’s National Institute of Migration said U.S. border authorities process about 3,080 people a week through the app. But thousands more have been unable to nab an appointment. Without one, they can be blocked from even approaching land ports of entry by Mexican and U.S. authorities.

The San Francisco judge’s order to lift Biden’s requirement for migrants to use the app was set to take effect this week, but the federal government received a stay while it argues its case to a higher court. The Biden administration contends that its mandates encourage legal pathways for immigration, and that unauthorized border crossings have decreased dramatically.

In the meantime, some migrants continue to wait under threats to their safety. One 32-year-old mother Wendy spoke to has been trying every day since January to get on the electronic waitlist. She and her family left Honduras in 2021 and have been traveling along the northern border of Mexico, trying to find an access point where they can seek asylum. They left their home after they couldn’t pay a “war tax” to local gangs.

  • María Guadalupe Cruz: “Even though migration isn’t a crime, I just want to do everything legally. We just want to follow the rules — whatever they are — because if we don’t, and they send us back to Honduras, we’ll be killed.”

4 One state union makes a deal

Marchers hold signs as Ty Kovacs, a teacher for California School of the Deaf, signs to the crowd in front of the Governor's Mansion on Sacramento on June 8, 2023. Photo by Julie A. Hotz for CalMatters
State employee union members march in front of the Governor’s Mansion on Sacramento on June 8, 2023. Photo by Julie A. Hotz for CalMatters

The Newsom administration has reached a tentative deal with the International Union of Operating Engineers — striking its first agreement with a state government union amid a summer of difficult negotiations taking place against the backdrop of a projected $31.5 billion deficit. 

A reminder: The contracts for most of the state’s 21 bargaining units expired the first week of July — impacting as many as 147,000 state workers. During negotiations, these unions have advocated for higher pay and better health coverage to keep up with California’s high cost of living

Newsom’s administration has been offering some unions less than what they’re seeking — for example the state is offering the prison doctors’ union a 2% raise for each of the next three years, while the union wants at least a 15% raise in the first year of the new contract. 

But the tentative agreement for the blue-collar union — which represents many of the state’s 12,250 maintenance workers — shows that the governor is ready to offer more than the baseline of 2% salary increases, and can be seen as encouraging news to other state workers unions. For example, some roles will receive a 3% to 5% salary increase in the first year, and one position, Park Landscape Maintenance Technician, will receive a 6.7% bump in pay. 

Aside from raises, the deal includes other perks. Many workers represented by the union will receive $1,500 retention bonuses. It also has provisions that reduce employee contributions to their pensions. 

Once all parties officially sign off on the new contract, it will be effective until June 2026.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Newsom quickly stepped in when the Temecula school board barred textbooks, but refused to buck teacher unions on pandemic school closings.

California can protect the water and environmental interests at stake in the mysterious land deal near Travis Air Force Base, writes Christopher Cabaldon, former mayor of West Sacramento and member of the Delta Protection Commission who is currently running for state Senate.


Other things worth your time

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A.G. to probe Chino Valley schools’ transgender student policy // The Orange County Register

Siskiyou County repeals water ordinances that residents said targeted Asian Americans // Los Angeles Times

ICE adds SF, San Jose to home curfews for migrant families // San Francisco Chronicle

1 in 4 new cars sold in CA last quarter were EVs, an all-time high // Los Angeles Times

How the pandemic dramatically changed the Bay Area commute // The Mercury News

Raising Bay Area bridge tolls opposed by more lawmakers // San Francisco Chronicle

Flea-borne typhus leads to first LA County deaths in decades // Los Angeles Times

SF D.A. Jenkins blasts courts, says they’re freeing fentanyl dealers // San Francisco Chronicle

Safeco to drop homeowner policies across Bay area // The San Francisco Standard

LA County could have 1.7 million fewer people by 2060 // Los Angeles Times

Should San Diego create its own municipal power company? // The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego’s homeless camping ban leaves many facing tough decisions // The San Diego Union-Tribune

SF Archdiocese likely to go bankrupt from sexual abuse lawsuits // San Francisco Chronicle

California’s Joshua tree faces a new threat: fire // The Washington Post

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