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Report finds Chico State followed existing policies in investigating embattled professor

David Stachura
David Stachura

Chico State University followed proper procedures in how it handled the sex investigation of suspended professor David Stachura and its lengthy aftermath, including not informing faculty and students that Stachura allegedly threatened gun violence on campus, an independent investigation has found.

The 20-page report by San Diego lawyer Nancy Aeling was released late Monday afternoon by the university, nearly a year after EdSource first reported on findings that Stachura had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student and allegedly threatened to shoot two colleagues who cooperated in an investigation of the matter, and was later named the university’s Outstanding Professor of the 2020-21 school year.

“The university acted consistently with policy by not notifying the Chico State community of Stachura’s alleged threats of violence,” Aeling wrote. Stachura, according to court testimony by his estranged wife, had told her of his intent to kill two professors who cooperated in the 2021 investigation that found he had an inappropriate relationship, which included sex in his office, with a student. Separately, a biology lecturer revealed — and later testified — that Stachura spoke to her about committing a shooting in the biology department.

Aeling did not respond to a phone message left at her office on Monday.

The report was also not critical of the university’s Campus Violence Consultation Team, which recommended that Stachura be allowed to return to campus after investigating the alleged threats against his colleagues and “did not find that he posed a threat of violence.”

A member of that team, Chico State Police Chief Christopher Nicodemus, testified in a court proceeding earlier this year that he did not agree with the team’s findings.

“There were concerns” about Stachura, Nicodemus said on the stand in a legal proceeding that resulted in a judge issuing a three-year workplace violence restraining order against Stachura that bars him from going on campus or near the people he threatened.

Nicodemus said on the stand that he believed “it’s safer to err on the side of caution” when making a threat assessment. He added that it would have been better to have mistakenly fired Stachura than live with the aftermath of a violent event.

Aeling wrote in the report that she did not consider “the appropriateness of Stachura’s actions or communications with his colleagues nor his colleagues’ responses to Stachura and his continued presence on campus, or the overall effectiveness of the procedures or policies in place to address the situation presented by (his) actions or communications.” Rather, the report was limited to “whether (the) responses were reasonable given the information available at the time and were consistent with the policies and procedures governing them.” The report makes no policy recommendations.

A faculty union officer ripped the report Monday night.

“It’s absolutely demoralizing and heartbreaking that no one has taken any accountability for what has happened,’’ Lindsay Briggs, a public health professor and a California Faculty Association Chico Campus Executive Board member, wrote in an email to EdSource.

“This is why survivors of violence don’t speak out and why we don’t feel safe at our jobs; because we’re not. No one cares to do anything other than offer empty platitudes.” Eleven “months of hand wringing and we’re no better off than we were before,” she said.

Gordon Wolfe, a professor who turned over court records about Stachura’s alleged threat to kill witnesses, said in a phone interview Monday evening that he received an email from Chico State saying that Aeling wanted to interview him, but that “she never followed up.”

Stachura remains on administrative leave as the university finishes an investigation of his alleged threat to kill witnesses in the sex case. He was recently ordered by a judge to pay more than $64,000 for the legal fees of a lecturer he unsuccessfully sued for libel. His lawyer did not respond to a request to comment on Aeling’s report.

In a prepared statement that accompanied the report’s release, Chico State President Stephen Perez said, “I appreciate the thorough review and the opportunity to consider our practices moving forward.”

Without mentioning her by name, the report found that former Chico State President Gayle Hutchinson considered the sex case against Stachura as well as the alleged threats he made when approving “Stachura’s promotion to” full professor in 2021. Hutchinson found him “to be a highly productive citizen of the academy, with a strong record of teaching, service and research,” the report states.

Hutchinson retired in June. She could not be immediately reached Monday night.

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.