Former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs James Sandoval violated UC sexual harassment policy

A 298-page investigative report released by the UC Office of the President details a pattern of inappropriate behavior in direct violation of the UC’s Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment (SVSH) policy on the part of James Sandoval, former vice chancellor of student affairs.

Sandoval, who was accused of sexual harassment in August 2017 by an anonymous source who worked under him, remained at his post until November that year, despite being under investigation. He was placed on administrative leave by UCR Chancellor Kim Wilcox that November, but then retired suddenly in December 2017.

The investigation, which relied on the accounts of two complainants, witnesses and Sandoval himself, was conducted by Public Interest Investigations, who found that Sandoval’s “conduct … was unwelcome,” and that the first complainant’s “decision to ‘consent’ to a brief relationship with Respondent for five weeks from April 2017 to May 2017 was not based on her romantic feelings for him but based on her fear that she would lose her job.” The report not only determined this quid pro quo instance of sexual harassment, but also found that Sandoval’s “conduct was inappropriately affectionate and outside the boundaries of a normal working relationship between a supervisor and their subordinate.”

These circumstances created a hostile work environment which caused the second complainant in the report to quit. Both the quid pro quo and the creation of a hostile work environment are stipulated in the UC’s SVSH policy which states: “Sexual Harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome requests … of a sexual nature when … a person’s submission to such conduct is implicitly or explicitly made the basis for employment decisions … or … such conduct is sufficiently severe or pervasive that it unreasonably denies … or interferes with a person’s participation in or benefit from … employment … and creates an environment that a reasonable person would find to be intimidating or offensive.” The former stipulation constitutes a quid pro quo, while the latter constitutes the creation of a hostile work environment.

The report, while heavily redacted, suggests that Sandoval’s behavior had been noted for some time within Student Affairs, but was largely kept quiet until 2017 when accusers came forth. Wilcox, in an open letter to UCR, stated, “The investigation detailed a set of behaviors over a 20-year period, that demonstrated his blatant disregard for university policies and a breach of our Principles of Community.”

Wilcox’s statement provides information regarding some of the steps being taken to combat sexual harassment and violence on campus, “Vice Chancellor Brian Haynes and Chief Compliance Officer Kiersten Boyce will be providing training resources for all who request it. In addition, we intend to conduct a workplace assessment in the Division of Student Affairs to ensure a safe and supportive work environment.” Despite these steps, some still feel as though the response from the administration is lacking. Carisha Moore, UCR’s undergraduate representative for the UC system-wide Title IX Student Advisory Board, helps revise Title IX policy. “We’re taking student feedback and bringing it to light on a UC system-wide level,” she said. The Sandoval situation will not directly inform changes to Title IX policy, as these revisions are an “ongoing process.”

While neither Moore nor the Student Advisory Board can comment on the Sandoval situation officially, Moore referenced her May 2018 letter to the editor in the Highlander and echoed her sentiments that the process needs to be more transparent and expedient. “I definitely believe that when the allegations came up that there … should have been a quicker response on how he was willing to take action towards Jim Sandoval,” she said. “I don’t think that he should have kept working … the process … could have been faster (and) more transparent to the UCR community.”

Wilcox provided an apology in the statement as well, stating: “I am sorry to those who were directly targeted by Sandoval and to the others subjected to the repercussions of his actions. My heart goes out to any member of our community who has been affected by sexual violence or sexual harassment.” However this sentiment was similarly expressed after an investigation into sexual misconduct at MSU in 2013, a situation which raised questions about misfeasance by Wilcox, who was alleged to have done nothing about the former MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine Dean William Strampel’s behavior despite having been informed about it for some time prior to the investigation.

In an April 2018 statement by Wilcox regarding the Strampel case he said, “I have been troubled by the revelations about Strampel’s alleged actions at MSU.” Wilcox was also troubled by Sandoval’s conduct, as stated in the recent letter; “Because of Sandoval’s role and long tenure at UCR, these findings are especially troubling.”

The MSU statement put things similarly, reading, “I deeply regret that he caused pain for so many. I further regret that some individuals felt they could not report Strampel’s actions at the time they occurred, and I admire the courageous individuals who have come forward.” The Sandoval statement echoes this sentiment. It reads, “I commend the courageous individuals who came forward to report Sandoval’s behavior.”

With regards to the UCR case, Sandoval remained at his post for approximately two months during the investigation, having been notified of the investigation on Oct. 2, 2017 and ultimately being put on administrative leave by Wilcox in November of that year. However news of Sandoval’s relationship was known as early as June 2017, according to Wilcox’s statement, as the Chancellor had imposed sanctions which were detailed in a letter of reprimand placed in Sandoval’s personnel file by UCR’s Human Resources department.

In an email to the Highlander, Assistant Vice Chancellor & Chief Communications Officer Johnny Cruz wrote more about the steps being taken to address the issue of sexual violence and harassment on campus. On top of increased funding for Title IX programs and the addition of a new investigator, Cruz said, “There have been significant changes within UCR Student Affairs this year including replacement of top leadership. Student Affairs is moving forward with an independent workplace assessment that will assess the climate of the division and provide insights as to how best to move forward during this challenging time.”

For anyone searching for resources in regard to reporting or confiding about incidents of sexual harassment or violence, UCR’s Title IX office can be reached at 951-827-7070. An alternative option for those not wishing to pursue an investigation is the CARE office, which provides confidential counseling and support and can be reached at 951-827-6225.

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