San Jose State University president resigns
San Jose State University President Mary Papazian speaks at a press conference about new housing initiatives at SJSU Monday, Jan. 27. Photo by Janice Bitters

San Jose State University’s president is resigning in the wake of a massive sexual abuse scandal that has consumed the school for months.

Mary A. Papazian announced Thursday that she will resign as president on Dec. 21. California State University Chancellor Joseph Castro will meet with campus stakeholders before naming an interim president.

“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.”

Papazian’s announcement alludes to a major settlement between the school and the U.S. Department of Justice over its decade-long failure to address complaints about sexual misconduct by the former director of sports medicine, Scott Shaw. The university agreed to pay $1.6 million to female student-athletes who were sexually harassed. The school and federal investigators identified 23 individuals who Shaw inappropriately touched as recently as last year.

Former California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and San Jose State University President Mary Papazian are pictured in this file photo.

Sparky Harlan, CEO of the Bill Wilson Center, said Papazian’s departure isn’t surprising in the wake of what happened with the female athletes.

“It continued to go on without real action being taken,” Harlan told San José Spotlight. “As a CEO of a nonprofit overseeing young people, you have to respond immediately when you have these kinds of accusations, even before you do a full investigation.”

Harlan said Shaw should have been removed from access to students immediately.

“I do think that’s where she fell short in her position as president,” she said.

Shaw, who resigned last year, served as the director of sports medicine starting in 2008. One employee raised concerns about Shaw as early as 2009, but an initial investigation by the school found no evidence of wrongdoing. SJSU allegedly retaliated against this employee, Sage Hopkins, for blowing the whistle on Shaw, and another employee for refusing to discipline Hopkins.

Papazian said she will continue to cooperate with the ongoing Title IX investigation and other investigations surrounding Shaw, according to the statement.

SJSU sociology professor Scott Myers-Lipton told San José Spotlight the revelations about the sexual abuse scandal have been a devastating blow to the campus community.

“My hope is that we still get clarity about who in positions of power knew what was happening, when did they know it, what did they do about it (and) what did they not do about it,” Lipton said, noting these questions have to be answered for the school to heal.

SJSU student Dipika Chopra (right) talks with a friend on campus. Photo by Lorraine Gabbert.

In the wake of the scandal, Papazian oversaw the restructuring and expansion of SJSU’s Title IX office. Like all schools that receive federal funds, the university has a program to enforce a law that prohibits sex-based discrimination. Title IX offices investigate discrimination and sexual misconduct.

SJSU student Nina Garcia said Papazian stepping down is appropriate.

“Words can only go so far,” Garcia told San José Spotlight. “Whatever happened already occurred. They should put more work into helping those victims and giving them what they deserve.”

But Dipika Chopra, another college student, said the university president must take ownership for the missteps of her administration.

“She might be responsible, but it’s better for her to stay as a leader and show a solution and fix the problem,” she said.

Papazian took command of San Jose State University in July 2016. During her tenure, she developed partnerships with technology companies such as IBM, Linkedin, PayPal and Adobe to bring additional resources to students.

Papazian’s tenure had more than a few rocky moments. Earlier this year, Papazian announced the Santa Clara County Coroner’s Office would reexamine the 2008 death of SJSU student Gregory Johnson Jr., following public outcry from students and activists who claim his death was a hate crime. She said her office would cooperate with the review.

In 2020, seven women of color accused Papazian’s administration of racial discrimination after they were denied promotion during the tenure process.

Papazian’s administration was also criticized for failing to provide sufficient emergency housing for homeless students.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter. Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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