Thu. Jul 18th, 2024

The center photo features Tom Boroujeni, Fresno City College academic senate president.

Credit: Mark Tabay, Fresno City College & Fresno State/Facebook

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The State Center Community College District announced late Friday that it is investigating allegations of “inappropriate behavior” by several unnamed employees who allegedly made several female employees “feel unsafe” during union meetings this month.

The district received “several complaints” of  alleged misconduct, a spokesperson, Jill Wagner, said in the statement. “We fully support survivors of violence and harassment, and we find this behavior, if confirmed, unacceptable, as it greatly impacts the faculty in our district and contributes to a toxic work environment.”

Noting that the district “does not normally become involved in internal faculty union activities,” the statement adds that “these complaints warrant further investigation by the faculty union, especially as they impact” district employees.

Multiple people familiar with the matter said the union meetings involved discussions about Fresno City College Academic Senate President Tom Boroujeni, who the district placed on paid leave Nov. 30. The move came the day after EdSource reported that  in 2020 a Fresno State University  investigation determined that Boroujeni committed an “act of sexual violence” against a professor. The alleged victim also teaches part time at City College.

The union met on the matter Dec. 1 with some members calling for the group’s leadership to be transparent about what it knew about Boroujeni. In an internal statement obtained by EdSource, union leadership had written, “In no way does the federation endorse or condone acts of harassment or violence in any circumstance.”  That statement, Laurie Taylor, an anthropology professor at Clovis Community College, told Edsource seemed “dismissive and placating,” adding “more could have been said.” 

Keith Ford, president of the union, the State Center Federation of Teachers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Nor did members of the union’s executive committee.

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

Wagner did not respond to a request for an interview Friday with Chancellor Carole Goldsmith.

The statement said that complaints brought to the district involve allegations of behavior that “greatly impacts the faculty.” 

The day after the EdSource report on the Fresno State sexual violence, three female city college instructors abruptly canceled class, telling EdSource they felt unsafe on campus. The cancelations came as students were preparing for final exams and contributed to the district’s decision to place Boroujeni on paid leave. 

The district’s action against Boroujeni, 38 of Clovis, a communication instructor also known as Farrokh Eizadiboroujeni and Tom Eizadi, was the subject of heated union discussions, according to people familiar with them. Some members defended Boroujeni, who is also being investigated over what he told EdSource were complaints of three women for what he defined as “gender discrimination.”

In an interview with EdSource in October, Boroujeni  identified one of the complainants as Dean Cyndie Luna of the college’s Fine, Performing and Communication Arts Division. Separately, Luna issued a letter of reprimand to Boroujeni last year which criticized him for incidents of unprofessional conduct which were “becoming more frequent and aggressive” and “causing me grave concern as your supervisor.” 

Luna also wrote that in a conversation with her, Boroujeni referred to a colleague with an apparent racial slur and, in a “menacing and threatening” tone, said he “will get” the colleague for gossiping about him. 

Boroujeni told EdSource that Luna fabricated the accusations in the letter. “She makes up a lot of things,” he said. Boroujeni also claimed to EdSource that the professor  against whom Fresno State determined he committed “an act of sexual violence” fabricated the allegations against him. 

He also complained that Luna was criticizing him for actions he took as Academic Senate president, a position in which he said he was immune from her oversight.

At a SCCCD’s board of trustees meeting Tuesday in Fresno, the president of the Academic Senate at Clovis Community College said Ford had supported at a union meeting that Boroujeni was being punished.

“Our union president helped to create and perpetuate a narrative that a specific harasser was being targeted by the administration because of his work on the academic senate,” Teresa Mendes, an English instructor said at the meeting, not mentioning Boroujeni by name. 

“This was a false narrative,” Mendes said, “and I blatantly reject the characterization that those who participate in participatory governance are targeted or reprimanded for their work.”

The “system has to be changed so that there is no safe harbor in (the district) for those who commit sexual assault and harassment,” she said, and no “safe harbor in our unions” for people who “harbor misogynistic and discriminatory thoughts against other faculty, staff, and students.”

Trustees and district officials did not respond to Mendes. Neither Boroujeni nor Ford  were present in person at the meeting. It is unclear if either participated electronically. 

Stetler Brown, an alumnus of the college district, ripped the district via Zoom on Tuesday. “The system is designed to protect educators that have been found (to have made) credible racist threats, misogyny, and sexual violence,” he said.

Without mentioning Boroujeni by name, Brown stated that tenure granted by SCCCD gives employees “a job as long as they desire.” Boroujeni received tenure this year. He told EdSource that district officials knew of the Fresno State sexual violence case when he was tenured. 

”Tuition and taxpayer dollars will protect predators, and that nobody will take responsibility for this individual’s tenure and promotion,” Brown said. “It is no wonder public support for higher education is waning. I hope that this serves as a call to the leadership of this district to make changes that protect survivors and show students that they stand for justice.”

The district’s investigation of misconduct at the union meetings comes as the bargaining unit is choosing its leaders. Ford, a Fresno City College English instructor, is seeking another term as union president. He faces at least one challenger – Madera Community College business instructor Gina Vagnino, in an election scheduled for Jan. 16. It was not immediately clear Friday if there are other challengers.

Vagnino confirmed she is a candidate but did not respond to multiple questions from EdSource about whether she is running  specifically because of the disagreements within the union over the Boroujeni matter.

The Fresno State investigation, based on the federal anti-discrimination law known as Title IX, determined that Boroujeni committed the act of sexual violence in 2015, when he was a graduate student and part-time instructor at Fresno State. The case wasn’t fully resolved until February, when the alleged victim reached a $53,300 settlement with the university after claiming it hadn’t done enough to protect her, university records show.

Boroujeni was also a part-time instructor at Fresno City College while finishing a master’s degree at Fresno State in 2015, records show.

He resigned from Fresno State last year while facing a second, unrelated misconduct allegation that was found to be unsubstantiated, records show. He agreed to never seek or accept work in the 23-campus system again. 

Boroujeni was never disciplined in the sexual violence matter because he was a graduate student when the alleged violence occurred. But Fresno State officials told him that the investigative report on the matter was going to be placed in his personnel file last year when he was up for a performance evaluation. He said he resigned so that a three-person committee reviewing him could not have access to the document.

Fresno State released a redacted copy of the report to EdSource under the state’s public record act “given that Mr. Boroujeni remains active in the educational community and is teaching at a local community college, there is strong public interest in knowing that a college instructor has been previously found to have committed an act of sexual violence at another university.”

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