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Chico State Academic Senate calls on CSU trustees to investigate handling of student affair, violent threats

West entrance at Chico State.
Jason Halley
Chico State
West entrance at Chico State.

Chico State’s Academic Senate voted 34-1 Wednesday to ask California State University trustees to conduct an independent investigation of their campus leadership’s handling of suspended professor David Stachura’s sexual affair with a student and alleged threats to shoot colleagues.

A Senate committee also voted to ask campus President Gayle Hutchinson to revoke Stachura’s “Outstanding Professor” award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Hutchinson quickly did so late Wednesday, her spokesperson said.

The decision to ask for an investigation left the Senate scrambling to schedule a second vote for Friday to make the resolution final before winter break. Senate members said they wanted to give students an immediate and clear message that action was being taken and to hear their input before a second vote.

“Students are very concerned about the state of things,” said music and theater professor Mathew Teague Miller, a Senate member. “They want to see something immediately.”

The meeting followed Hutchinson’s Tuesday apology to the campus and was the second emotionally fraught public session on the Stachura case in three days, following a campuswide online gathering Monday in which students expressed fear and outrage. Wednesday’s Senate meeting, limited to 300 attendees on Zoom, was no less emotional.

Speaking to senators Wednesday, one student broke into sobs when she said her sister, a University of Arizona student, was nearby when a professor there was shot dead in October.

“I do not want to come home if a school shooting were to happen, to tell my parents — who have four daughters — that two of their daughters experienced a school shooting. I am terrified,” said Krystal Alvarez, president of the Associated Students of CSU Chico.

Some senators had advocated on social media Tuesday to use the meeting to take a no-confidence vote on Hutchinson and Provost Debra Larson. But although it was discussed, there appeared to be waning support for such measures. Instead, senators said the way Stachura and the alleged threats were dealt with needed outside review. A biology department lecturer told the campus meeting Monday that Stachura had talked to her about getting a weapon and going on a campus shooting spree, quoting him as saying, “If I wanted you guys dead, you’d be dead. I’m a doer.” Last year, in seeking a restraining order in an ongoing divorce and child custody case, Stachura’s estranged wife, Miranda King, told a Butte County judge in writing that Stachura told her he wanted to kill the complaining professors and had bought hollow-point bullets to, in his words,“ do maximum damage.

“The word ‘independent’ is made very specific here,” said Jeff Trailer, a professor of management in the College of Business. “We need this done by someone with no ties to campus.”

A spokesperson for the CSU system declined to comment on the request because it was not yet final.

A university investigator found in 2020 that Stachura, 44, had a consensual sexual affair with a graduate student whom he supervised, a violation of the university sexual harassment policy meant to stop academics from coercing students into intimate relationships. Two female professors who say they heard Stachura having sex with the student in his office, found them in his office with a futon open into a bed and the room reeking of sex, cooperated with the investigation. One of the professors said she saw Stachura and the student kissing in a lab. Stachura denied the affair, a claim he continued recently in an interview with EdSource.

The university settled the matter with Stachura on Dec. 1, 2020. He was suspended without pay for a third of the semester. He withdrew an application for promotion to full professor with tenure. The university agreed to not place the investigation in his personnel file, allowing him to reapply for the promotion, which was later approved.

On the date the CSU Chancellor’s Office rejected his appeal in the sex case, Oct. 15, 2020, EdSource reported last week, he bought two boxes of hollow-point bullets and more than 50 rounds of 12-gauge buckshot shotgun shells. In an interview withEd Source, he twice said he couldn’t remember the purchases, then said the date was a coincidence.

The lecturer’s story this week on Zoom further riled the campus, increasing criticism of the administration for not revealing the earlier threats. Hutchinson said multiple times that limits on what she could reveal about personnel matters kept the threats from being disclosed even as Stachura was returned to work and monitored.

“But the first of the alleged threats, reported to the university in August 2021, could have been publicly revealed even though he was not disciplined for them, said David Loy, the legal director of the First Amendment Coalition, an open-government advocacy group. The importance of disclosure of something so important to campus safety trumped any right to confidentiality, Loy said.

Stachura was investigated for the threats against the professors and interviewed twice by a retired FBI agent the university hired. The former agent made no recommendation about whether Chico State officials, who had also interviewed Stachura, should fire him. Loy said the circumstances add up to a strong basis for the university to have disclosed the threats.

“There is clearly nothing more substantial than a threat to shoot” people on a college campus, Loy said Wednesday, citing state court decisions where allegations of misconduct were disclosed in the public interest. In a case involving the Bakersfield City School District, an appeals court ruled that disciplinary records of allegations of a teacher’s sexual misconduct and violent threats could be released when there is “reasonable cause to believe the complaint is well-founded, public employee privacy must give way to the public’s right to know.”

It was not immediately clear Wednesday what time Friday’s second vote on the request to the trustees would occur. But senators pushed for the body to bend rules and people’s schedules to get it done.

“I’m just gonna say one thing just to keep it real,” said professor Chiara Ferrari of the Media Arts, Design and Technology Department. “If we allowed a faculty member who had intercourse in his office to work at this university, I’m pretty sure we can suspend the rules.”

Michael Weber is a reporter at the Chico Enterprise-Record.

This story was changed to correct the following years: The "Outstanding Professor" award was for the 2020-2021 academic year. The date when the CSU Chancellor’s Office rejected his appeal in the sex case was Oct. 15, 2020.

Thomas Peele is an investigative reporter at EdSource. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter.
EdSource believes that access to a quality education is an important right of all children. We further believe that an informed, involved public is necessary to strengthen California’s schools for the benefit of the state’s children, its civic life, and its economy.