Investigation underway into college district employees’ behavior at union meetings regarding sexual violence case

The State Center Community College District announced on Friday, that it is looking into claims of “inappropriate behavior” by multiple unnamed employees who made female employees feel unsafe during union meetings that occurred earlier this month.

A spokesperson for the district, Jill Wagner, stated in a press release that they have received “several complaints” of alleged misconduct. She further added, “We fully support survivors of violence and harassment, and we find this behavior, if confirmed, unacceptable, as it greatly affects the faculty in our district and contributes to a toxic work environment.”

The statement also mentioned that the district typically does not get involved in internal faculty union activities. However, the severity of these complaints has necessitated further investigation by the faculty union, especially considering the impact it has on district employees.

According to multiple sources familiar with the matter, the union meetings centered around discussions regarding Tom Boroujeni, the Fresno City College Academic Senate President. The district put him on paid leave on November 30th, a day after an investigation by Fresno State University determined that Boroujeni had committed an “act of sexual violence” against a professor in 2020. The alleged victim is also a part-time teacher at City College.

The union held a meeting on December 1st to address the matter, with some members demanding transparency from the leadership regarding their knowledge of Boroujeni’s actions. In an internal statement obtained by EdSource, the union leadership stated, “In no way does the federation endorse or condone acts of harassment or violence in any circumstance.”  According to Laurie Taylor, an anthropology professor at Clovis Community College, this statement seemed dismissive and placating, suggesting that more could have been said.

The president of the union, Keith Ford, and the union’s executive committee members did not provide an immediate response to a request for comment on Friday.

The district’s statement on Friday also called for the faculty union to investigate the alleged misconduct.

Chancellor Carole Goldsmith was not available for an interview on Friday, according to Jill Wagner.

The statement emphasized that the complaints brought to the district have a significant impact on the faculty.

A day after the EdSource report on the Fresno State sexual violence, three female instructors at City College abruptly canceled their classes, citing concerns for their safety on campus. These cancellations occurred during the final exam period and played a role in the district’s decision to place Boroujeni on paid leave. 

The district’s action against Boroujeni, who is also known as Farrokh Eizadiboroujeni and Tom Eizadi, sparked heated discussions within the union, as reported by sources familiar with the matter. Some members of the union came to Boroujeni’s defense, highlighting that he is also under investigation for alleged “gender discrimination” based on complaints from three women.

Boroujeni identified one of the complainants as Cyndie Luna, the dean of the Fine, Performing and Communication Arts Division at City College. Luna had previously issued a letter of reprimand to Boroujeni, expressing concern about his unprofessional conduct, including incidents that were “becoming more frequent and aggressive.” In the letter, Luna stated that Boroujeni made a racial slur when referring to a colleague and made menacing and threatening remarks about getting back at the colleague for gossiping about him.

When asked about these accusations, Boroujeni denied them, claiming that Luna fabricated them. He also dismissed the allegations of sexual violence made against him by the professor as false.

Boroujeni argued that Luna was criticizing his actions as academic senate president, a position where he believed he had immunity from her supervision.

Teresa Mendes, the president of the academic senate at Clovis Community College, accused Ford, the union president, of creating and perpetuating a false narrative that the administration was targeting Boroujeni because of his role on the academic senate. She stressed the need to change the system so that there is no safe harbor for those who commit sexual assault and harassment, both within the district and the unions.

The trustees and district officials did not respond to Mendes’ comments, and neither Boroujeni nor Ford were present at the meeting. It is unclear if they participated electronically.

During a zoom meeting on Tuesday, Stetler Brown, an alumnus of the college district, criticized the district’s leniency towards educators who engage in racist threats, misogyny, and sexual violence. He raised concerns about the tenure system that allows employees like Boroujeni to maintain their positions. Brown called for changes to protect survivors and to demonstrate the district’s commitment to justice.

The district’s investigation into the alleged misconduct at the union meetings coincides with the selection of new leaders for the bargaining unit. Keith Ford, an English instructor at Fresno City College and the current union president, is running for re-election. Gina Vagnino, a business instructor at Madera Community College, has also declared her candidacy. The election is scheduled for January 16th, and it is unclear if there are any other challengers.

Vagnino confirmed her candidacy but did not respond to inquiries about whether her decision to run is related to the disagreements within the union regarding the Boroujeni matter.

The Fresno State investigation, conducted under Title IX, found that Boroujeni committed an act of sexual violence in 2015 while he was a graduate student and part-time instructor at Fresno State. The case was concluded in February when the alleged victim reached a settlement of $53,300 with the university, claiming that they had not done enough to protect her, based on university records.

Boroujeni also worked as a part-time instructor at Fresno City College while completing his master’s degree at Fresno State in 2015, according to records.

Last year, Boroujeni resigned from Fresno State in the face of a second misconduct allegation, which was ultimately deemed unsubstantiated. As a result of this incident, Boroujeni agreed to never seek or accept employment within the 23-campus system again.

Although Boroujeni was never disciplined specifically for the sexual violence allegation because he was a graduate student at the time, Fresno State officials informed him that the investigative report would be placed in his personnel file during a performance evaluation. To prevent the three-person committee evaluating him from accessing the report, he chose to resign.

Under the California Public Records Act, Fresno State released a redacted version of the report to EdSource. The report justified the decision by stating that it is in the public’s interest to know that a college instructor with a history of sexual violence was active in the educational community.

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