Mary Papazian Resigns as President of San Jose State in Wake of Justice Department Settlement

Mary A. Papazian announced today that she will resign as the president of San José State University at the end of the fall semester, effective Dec. 21.

The announcement came just 16 days after the U.S. Department of Justice said that SJSU “failed to comply in certain respects with Title IX's prohibitions against sex discrimination” in its settlement of sexual harassment claims against the university in connection with actions by former athletic trainer Scott Shaw.

California State University Chancellor Joseph I. Castro announced today that he will meet with campus stakeholders this fall prior to naming an interim president, which will be followed by a national search for the 31st president of SJSU by the CSU Board of Trustees, its seventh president in the last 20 years.

The next president will have to deal with lingering legal claims, and manage wide-ranging reforms in its athletic programs required by the Justice Department settlement, not to mention dealing with issues of trust, reputation and accountability in the broader community.

“The best interest of the campus continues to be at the forefront of every decision I make. After thoughtful consideration, I have made the decision to step away as president,” Papazian said in a statement. “I truly love this university and believe this choice will allow the focus to be positively and solely on our talented, diverse, and outstanding campus. It has been my great honor and privilege to work with the exceptional SJSU students, faculty, staff, alumni and community partners. I am incredibly grateful to the entire SJSU and San José communities for the opportunity to serve at what I consider to be one of the best and most transformational universities in the country. Thank you.”

Papazian became the 30th president and third woman to lead the university on July 1, 2016, and her legacy of building significant partnerships with Silicon Valley tech companies that enhanced the reputation and resources of San Jose State remains forever touched by a scandal that began in 2009 with the first allegations of inappropriate behavior by Shaw with the Spartan women's swimming team. The trainer was cleared of charges by the university at the time, but subsquent allegations prompted new investigations by federal authorities.

The FBI acknowledged this summer that it was investigating charges against Shaw, who resigned in 2020. The university's civil settlement with the Justice Department over Title IX violations was announced Sept. 21.

In making the announcement of Papazian's abrupt departure, the university added: "The health and safety of the SJSU campus community remains a priority for President Papazian and SJSU. President Papazian will continue to cooperate with the ongoing external Title IX Procedural Investigation and investigations surrounding former SJSU Director of Sports Medicine Scott Shaw."

“This transition does not impact our intention and obligation to understand what occurred and how the university responded at the time,” Papazian said  in her statement. “I made a promise to our community and to the affected student-athletes and their families, and I plan to honor it. My heart, apologies and prayers continue to be with those student-athletes who suffered a breach of trust during their time at the university.”

“President Papazian’s decision to resign from the presidency reflects her compassionate leadership,” said Castro in a statement. “While professionally and personally difficult, this step demonstrates her commitment to the university moving forward. We are grateful for the innovative educational services and cutting-edge resources that she and her team have put into place, which have positioned San José State University as a transformational higher learning institution.”

“I, along with our Board of Trustees, am grateful for Dr. Papazian’s dedication to San José State University,” stated Lillian Kimbell, Chair of the Board. “President Papazian’s commitment to providing equitable student-educational services is illustrated by SJSU’s graduation rates climbing during her tenure, and the average debt remaining far below the national average. During her tenure, SJSU has amplified its research and technology partnerships in Silicon Valley and nationwide to offer its students unique resources at the university.”

San Jose State had told the Justice Department that while it disputed the findings, it would agree to settle the case to avoid a protracted legal battle over “disputed issues,” according to DOJ officials.

Federal investigators concluded that 23 SJSU student athletes were inappropriately touched by Shaw when he was the athletic trainer. Shaw resigned in September 2020. Of these, 13 have accepted the university’s settlement offer to date, according to officials.

The scandal at the university began in 2009 when Spartans swim coach Sage Hopkins first brought forward the allegations of inappropriate touching of female swimmers by Shaw during massage sessions.

The Justice Department found that SJSU failed for more than a decade to respond adequately to reports of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, of female student-athletes by “an athletic trainer then working at SJSU.” The report did not mention Shaw. “Beginning in 2009," the federal report said, "female student-athletes reported that the trainer subjected them to repeated, unwelcome sexual touching of their breasts, groins, buttocks, and/or pubic areas during treatment in the campus training facilities.”

The department concluded that for years, continuing under Papazian's watch, SJSU’s ineffective response “exposed additional student-athletes to harm.”

The department also determined that SJSU had retaliated against two SJSU employees. The first employee repeatedly alerted school officials to the threat the athletic trainer posed, and the second employee expressed opposition to retaliating against the reporting employee and was terminated by SJSU. The department and SJSU entered into a comprehensive agreement to address the findings of the investigation, which began in June 2020.

“No student should be subjected to sexual harassment at a college or university in our country, especially by an employee who wields a position of power,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said Sept. 21. “With this agreement, San José State University will provide relief to survivors and transform its Title IX process to ensure accountability in its athletics program and create a safer campus for all its students.”
Clarke thanked current and former students who came forward and shared their experiences, and the employees “who unceasingly advocated for their students.”

“Because of them, San José State University will adopt major reforms to prevent such an abuse of authority from happening ever again,” she said.

Federal investigators said they reviewed thousands of pages of university documents, including documents related to the 2009-10 and 2020-21 investigations into allegations against Shaw, whome it did not name, as well as the related retaliation against SJSU Athletics employees.

In announcing Papazian's resignation, the university today said that, "Based on the SJSU external 2019-20 investigation findings and the DOJ findings," the outgoing SJSU president has taken the following steps.

  • SJSU restructured and expanded its Title IX office, including the addition of new Title IX experts.
    • The team, among others, will include the just announced experienced Title IX and Gender Equity Officer (“Title IX coordinator”), responsible for overseeing compliance with, and implementation of, all Title IX-related policies, grievance procedures, and training at SJSU. The Title IX coordinator will oversee the deputy Title IX coordinator and other Title IX personnel and liaisons.
    • The Title IX Office has received a significant increase in funding to: recruit and hire a new Title IX coordinator, deputy Title IX coordinator, a minimum of two qualified Title IX investigators and an administrative assistant; enhance response to reports of sex discrimination; develop informational materials; and conduct outreach to the SJSU community.
  • SJSU has launched a new Wellbeing Attendant (chaperone) Policy to ensure both student-athletes and sports medicine staff have a right to request that a Wellbeing Attendant be present for any type of sports medicine treatment.
  • SJSU is enhancing education and orientation programs focused on sexual assault prevention, reporting options, and resources for survivors, witnesses, and bystanders.

Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *