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The Markstein Hall building at CSU San Marcos / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

Facing pressure from the Cal State San Marcos campus community, officials are giving professor Chetan Kumar a new assignment in which he won’t work directly with students.

University officials went through a yearlong process to fire Kumar after an investigation found he sexually harassed his former teacher’s aide and harassed three other students during the 2019 semester. But after the California Faculty Association filed an appeal, the school quickly backtracked and let Kumar keep his job. He had been scheduled to teach two classes at the university in the fall.

The case has created a crisis for the university.

As frustration over the decision to allow Kumar to continue teaching mounted last week, Kumar’s colleagues demanded action and university officials defended their decision-making to students and faculty.

Kumar did not respond to an interview request. Kumar told university officials during an investigation of the accusations that his interactions with the women were friendly, not sexual in nature, and consistent with how he engaged with other students. He also raised the possibility of implicit bias against him as a person of color.

University officials have not decided what Kumar’s new role will be or when it will begin, Margaret Chantung, a spokeswoman for the university, told Voice of San Diego in an email.

CSU San Marcos President Ellen Neufeldt wrote in a letter to faculty, staff and students on Friday that she understands the school community’s anger over the situation.

“This was traumatic and upsetting for so many and you do not stand alone in your dismay,” she and Provost Carl Kemnitz wrote in the letter.

Neufeldt and Kemnitz said in the letter that officials “moved in good faith” to fire Kumar, but ultimately decided that keeping him on staff under certain conditions was the best path forward.

Though the California State University system’s agreement with Kumar explicitly states that the deal is intended to avoid “the expense, inconvenience and uncertainty of continued proceedings,” Neufeldt and Kemnitz wrote in the letter that such language is standard and that “neither time nor money is ever a factor in decisions related to sexual assault and/or harassment.”

They characterized the situation as “difficult and heartbreaking dilemma for everyone involved.”

A spokeswoman for the California State University system similarly argued that despite the language in the settlement, “this case had nothing to do with economics.”

“The university wanted a resolution that provided finality and accountability, and also provided for the safety of students, all of which was accomplished with this settlement,” Toni Molle wrote in an email.

On Friday, the school’s College of Business Administration community launched an online petition addressed to the university and the union urging school officials to fire Kumar.

“Allowing this professor to return to campus would have a serious, deleterious effect on other students, faculty, and staff, and his mere presence would make many members of the campus community feel unsafe,” the petition reads.

The creators of the petition wrote that they were disappointed in the university administration “for caving to pressures rather than sticking to its initial decision to what was right, just, and necessary to uphold the ideals and values that lie at the core of its institutional mission” and that the faculty union “chose to abandon its principles and defended the professor’s actions.”

More than 1,600 people have signed the petition.

Some people who signed the petition raised concern for the safety of students at the university.

“Students should feel safe, not preyed on,” one person wrote.

The university will host a campus conversation for staff on Wednesday, and a separate conversation for students to talk about the case this week, Chantung said.

“We share the fury, sadness and sense of hopelessness expressed by so many,” Neufeldt and Kemnitz wrote in the letter.

Kayla Jimenez

Kayla Jiminez was a staff writer for Voice of San Diego. She covered about communities, politics and regional issues in North County as well as school...

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