Trouble At The Top
Salinas college president faces allegations of racism and sexual harassment.
Thursday, April 23, 1998
Long-simmering tensions between Hartnell President Ed Valeau and members of the college''s Latino community appear to be boiling over this week, with allegations swirling around the campus and in the local media, charging Valeau with sexually harassing two women on the college staff and using racially derogatory terms about members of the Hartnell College community.
Susan Dauphine, a Monterey attorney representing Valeau, told Coast Weekly that such allegations were "absolutely not" in keeping with Valeau''s character. She added that "there has been nothing filed in writing that I''m aware of, there has been no lawsuit filed. All I can tell you at this time is that based on all the information I''m aware of, the claims are totally without merit."
The controversy surrounding Valeau became a news topic last week when college officials confirmed that they had asked Rudy Asunsolo, Monterey County''s affirmative action officer, to act as an impartial investigator and follow through on a complaint of sexual harassment against Valeau. In the course of investigating that complaint, Asunsolo contacted Kathryn Butler, Hartnell''s director of marketing and public relations, who gave Asunsolo detailed allegations of sexual harassment by Valeau.
It also came to light in news reports that on April 6, the board agreed to pay Vice President of Instruction Patricia Caldwell a severance package consisting of the balance of her contract through June in exchange for Caldwell dropping a complaint of sexual harassment against Valeau that she had filed with the board in January.
Both Butler and Caldwell refused to comment on their allegations. But earlier this week, the board held a special meeting consisting of a closed session to "talk about the publicity that''s been going on about sexual harassment," says Joey Lasnik, Hartnell''s board president. "We discussed the fact that we have not received a report from the county affirmative action officer, and that we would like to have. That''s all that went on at that meeting." Neither Lasnik nor Asunsolo could say when the affirmative action officer''s report will be complete. "As soon as possible, without jeopardizing the accuracy and integrity of the investigation," Asunsolo--who is doing the report on county time--says of the report''s completion date.
Asunsolo and others familiar with his investigation to date say the affirmative action officer is also looking into allegations that Valeau has used racist language to describe members of the Hartnell community. At a recent closed meeting of the board, Lasnik and boardmember John Inman allegedly told the rest of the board that they had heard Valeau use racist language. "I certainly don''t recall saying anything like that," says Inman. Lasnik told CW that she did not wish to comment on matters currently under investigation.
Sources familiar with Asunsolo''s investigation say racist epithets reported to the affirmative action officer allegedly include phrases like "dumb as dirt" to describe Latino boardmembers David Serena and Juan Martinez, "little Jew girl" to describe Caldwell and "lazy white-assed" to describe Hartnell''s deans. He also allegedly called Lasnik a "little old bitch."
"One is innocent until proven guilty," says Martinez, one of two Hispanic members of the Hartnell board. "I am going to stick to that in terms of my judgment." Nevertheless, Martinez says the allegations against Valeau make him uncomfortable about representing Hartnell to the rest of the community.
"At this point, I''m willing to ask for his resignation," Serena told CW this week. "I don''t want to prejudge him, but there''s enough information already." Serena added that he confronted Valeau at a recent board meeting and Valeau "denied everything... He said ''I wouldn''t say anything like that.''"
"He [Valeau] should be leading the college in celebration of diversity and tolerance, not exploitation and the abuse of power," says Juan Oliverez, a Salinas City Councilmember who also heads up the La Raza faculty group on the Hartnell campus. Currently, Hartnell''s student body is 51 percent Hispanic.
Asunsolo''s report may ultimately justify the outrage expressed by Hartnell''s non-white community. But racial politics will definitely play a role in however the report is handled, as they have since Valeau''s initial hiring. Indeed, the president''s relationship with prominent Latinos--including Oliverez and Serena--began on a tempestuous note, when Valeau''s 1995 hiring was protested by Latinos who wanted the college board to hire Raul Cardoza, a finalist for the post from Chabot College in Hayward. "Maybe the situation started bad because we did protest his hiring," says Oliverez. [But] "we talked to him many, many times; we tried to work with him many, many times. Never did he work with us in a positive way."