LOS ANGELES (CNS) — California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro resigned Thursday, coinciding with a closed-door meeting to discuss policies related to sexual harassment, following questions about how Castro handled complaints against an administrator while he was president of Fresno State University.

The resignation takes effect immediately. A succession plan to replace Castro is being finalized by the Board of Trustees. Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer Steve Relyea will serve as acting chancellor until an interim chancellor is selected for the Long Beach-based system.

"I have been honored to serve the California State University for more than eight years, including as its eighth chancellor, and the decision to resign is the most difficult of my professional life," Castro said in a statement.

"While I disagree with many aspects of recent media reports and the ensuing commentary, it has become clear to me that resigning at this time is necessary so that the CSU can maintain its focus squarely on its educational mission and the impactful work yet to be done."

Said Board of Trustee Chair Lillian Kimbell: "We appreciate Chancellor Castro's cooperation with the trustees and his decision to step down for the benefit of California State University system."

The Board of Trustees also intends to begin an effort to "strengthen institutional culture" across the system "and bring CSU to the forefront of Title IX innovation, accountability and response," the statement announcing Castro's resignation said.

The trustees intend to call for a vote at their March 22-23 meeting to hire Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, the chair and vice chair of Cozen O'Connor's Institutional Response Group, to conduct a comprehensive systemwide assessment, with the goals of providing insights, recommendations and resources to help advance CSU's Title IX and civil rights training, awareness, prevention, intervention, compliance, accountability, and support systems. The assessment will begin in March at Fresno State University.

Kimbell called Thursday's telephonic meeting Feb. 4, one day after USA Today published a lengthy report questioning a 2020 settlement agreement Castro helped broker with then-Fresno State Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Frank Lamas.

According to the USA Today report, as many as a dozen harassment complaints were made against Lamas over a six-year period, including allegations that he stared at women's breasts, touched women inappropriately, made sexist remarks and would berate and retaliate against employees.

Despite the allegations, no action was taken against him until a 2019 complaint that Lamas had allegedly offered to promote a female employee in return for sexual favors, the paper reported.

That complaint prompted a university investigation that found the allegation to be credible. And it led to the 2020 settlement agreement, in which Lamas received a $260,000 payment and left the university with a glowing letter of reference from Castro, according to the report.

Kimbell said in a statement following the USA Today report that she planned to ask the board "in the coming days" to support an independent probe, "as I know it will help us improve practices and policies for the future."

In a letter sent to the CSU community following the USA Today report, Castro said the main goal of the settlement agreement was to remove Lamas from the campus community. But he said he regretted writing Lamas a letter of reference.

In his letter, Castro insisted the university "acted immediately" when the complaint was filed.

"To protect the campus community, he was removed from campus within four days," Castro wrote. "We then entered into settlement negotiations for two fundamental reasons: to permanently separate Dr. Lamas from campus as quickly as possible — without a prolonged legal fight — and to bar him permanently from future employment at Fresno State or any CSU campus. 

"As part of the settlement agreement, which was mediated by a respected retired federal judge, I was required to provide Dr. Lamas with a letter of reference. I did so, and included language mentioning the progress the campus had made on student success and outcomes during his tenure. In hindsight, while my motives were to expedite Dr. Lamas' permanent removal from the CSU, I regret agreeing to this aspect of the settlement, knowing that it caused additional pain."

Castro apologized for "any additional hurt and understandable frustration brought about by aspects of the mediated settlement agreement."

"I want you — the entire Cal State community — to know that your health, safety and well-being are my first priority," he wrote. "This includes fostering and sustaining an environment free from sexual harassment and all other forms of sexual misconduct. And it also means respectfully and intentionally holding space for all those affected by this behavior."

Castro noted that the CSU has begun a systemwide review of Title IX compliance.

"But of course, we must do so much more — to strengthen our survivor support services; to sharpen the tools we have to quickly and effectively respond to incidents that occur; and to appropriately address legal, administrative and procedural barriers that can impede action," he wrote.