Ex-UC Riverside administrator James Sandoval sexually harassed employees over 20-year period, probe finds
By: Ryan Hagan
Over the course of 20 years before his January retirement as a UC Riverside vice chancellor, James Sandoval pursued unwanted romantic relationships with four women who worked for him, demanding full body hugs and punishing them when they rejected him, a University of California investigation concluded.
The 298-page report by the UC Office of the President was released Monday, Oct. 22, in response to an anonymous letter sent in August 2017.
The same day he saw the report, UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox emailed campus employees to inform them Sandoval had shown “blatant disregard” for the UC Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment Policy.
“Because of Sandoval’s role and long tenure at UCR, these findings are especially troubling,” Wilcox wrote. “They have caused a great deal of pain on campus and off. No person should ever be subjected to such reprehensible behavior.”
Wilcox said he learned in June 2017 of “what Sandoval described to me as a consensual relationship between him and a subordinate employee,” resulting in a letter of reprimand and other sanctions. New sexual harassment and hostile work allegations came in August 2017. In November, Wilcox placed Sandoval on involuntary administrative leave.
Sandoval retired as vice chancellor for Student Affairs in January 2018. He did not return a phone call Tuesday, but said in the report that his relationships were consensual and did not violate university policy.
Women feared ‘venomous’ anger
According to the report, there is “compelling evidence” that Sandoval “engaged in a troubling pattern of conduct with four different women at different times over a period of 20 years.”
Public Interest Investigations, which was hired by the UC Office of the President, bases its conclusions on a “preponderance of evidence” standard, meaning investigators found it more likely Sandoval committed the alleged acts than that he didn’t. The information was not reported to law enforcement for possible prosecution, according to Dianne Klein, president’s office spokeswoman. Cases would be reported if they involved suspected child abuse or a complainant asked the university to do so, she said. Neither situation existed in Sandoval’s case.
Two women detail similar alleged harassment in the report. First, they say, Sandoval “wooed” them, sending them off-hours messages that he loved them and demanding hugs. That continued even as they resisted, according to the report.
In 2013, as he hugged one of the women, the report states that he grabbed her buttocks and said, “I do a lot for you. What are you going to do for me?”
In the report, Sandoval denies saying that. He acknowledges a five-week relationship with an employee in 2017 consisted of kissing, hugging and telling each other “I love you,” and that throughout the relationship he was in a position to make decisions about her employment and job responsibilities, according to the report.
He said the relationship was mutual.
One woman said in the report that, when she didn’t reciprocate Sandoval’s “creepy affections,” he responded with “pointedly venomous” anger.
Based on repeated comments she made — including in writing and to coworkers — it should have been clear to Sandoval that the relationship was unwanted, according to the report.
“She did not consent, but rather, submitted to his advances to keep her job,” the report concludes.
According to the report, Sandoval showed preferential treatment to the women he was pursuing, at the expense of other employees. After the relationship, he began criticizing her work and took other actions that hurt her career.
That was based on the quality of her work, Sandoval said in the report.
Two other, earlier instances of alleged abuse by Sandoval are apparently analyzed in the report but are redacted in the copy released by UC. The document redacts the names of all alleged victims and witnesses.
Sandoval had long history at UCR
In his January message to the campus announcing Sandoval’s retirement, Wilcox wrote that Sandoval arrived in 1989 as director of Financial Aid and was appointed vice chancellor in 2001. He also oversaw Enrollment Services, Student Life, Health and Wellness, Residential Life, and Auxiliary Services, and was appointed to the California Student Aid Commission in 2003.
Sandoval received $248,792 in pay and another $64,823 in benefits in 2017, according to a database maintained by the watchdog group Transparent California.
He was a visible figure, visiting high schools to inspire youths to attend college.
Wilcox wrote in January, as the investigation continued, that Sandoval “has been a tireless advocate for students over almost four decades in the University of California system.”
In April, Wilcox denied allegations he ignored sexual harassment and abuse while he was provost at Michigan State University, saying he was unaware of his associate’s behavior.
William Strampel, the former dean of Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, was arrested March 26 as part of an investigation into how former sports doctor Larry Nassar was able to sexually abuse more than 250 girls and women while at the university, including many members of the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team. Nassar was sentenced in January to up to to 175 years in prison.
Wilcox, who supervised Strampel from 2005 to 2012, said in April he had been unaware of Strampel’s behavior and expressed regret for Strampel’s victims.
UCR adopted a comprehensive approach to respond to cases of sexual violence and sexual harassment, UCR spokesman Johnny Cruz said Tuesday. This includes a case management team, coordinated response team, training and education.
The university recently hired an additional Title IX investigator to assist in UCR’s prevention and response efforts, and increased funding for Title IX, investigations, and its Campus Advocacy, Resources, and Education office.
“We have had cases that required decisive disciplinary action, and we remain committed to addressing every (sexual violence and sexual harassment) case with appropriate consequences,” Cruz wrote in an email.
Wilcox wrote Monday that he welcomes campus-wide input on ways to improve outreach, prevention and support to survivors of sexual violence or harassment.
“I am sorry to those who were directly targeted by Sandoval and to the others subjected to the repercussions of his actions,” Wilcox wrote Monday. “My heart goes out to any member of our community who has been affected by sexual violence or sexual harassment. Please know that you have my unwavering commitment to providing a safe working and learning environment.”
Anyone aware of sexual harassment or workplace misconduct can report to the UCR Title IX office or the Locally Designated Official for whistleblower complaints, Wilcox wrote.
UCR intends to conduct a workplace assessment in the Division of Student Affairs to ensure a safe and supportive work environment, he said.
“Finally, and most important, I commend the courageous individuals who came forward to report Sandoval’s behavior,” Wilcox wrote. “Had these individuals not spoken up, the scope and severity of his actions may never have come to light. “