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CSU's Title IX Reckoning

EdSource Special Report

Chico State professor disciplined for student affair allegedly threatened colleagues who complained

Above: Kendall Hall at Chico State University. Credit: Jason Halley/University Photographer/Chico State

Chico State says 2020 affair "might be considered differently today."

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A prominent Chico State University biology professor allegedly spoke of killing two female colleagues who cooperated in a 2020 investigation that found he had a prohibited sexual affair with a graduate student, state court and newly released university records show.

A former FBI agent hired by the university to evaluate David Stachura and the alleged threat concluded that the university might have been justified to fire him, his report shows. But Stachura did not act on the alleged threat and Chico State retained him, sanctioning him lightly for the alleged affair.

Credit: Chico State University

David Stachura

The settlement, with Stachura denying any wrongdoing, kept the investigation out of his personnel file, clearing his path to tenure in the spring of 2021 and naming him “Outstanding Professor” of the 2020-21 academic year.

He remains employed by the university.

Stachura joined Chico State’s faculty in 2014. He researches blood and immune cell formation, primarily using fish cells. He’s brought Chico State over $1 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health to support his work.

Allegations that he had an affair with a student over whom he had direct authority triggered an investigation by the university’s Title IX office. The unit probed violations of the California State University’s executive order banning employees from having consensual sexual relationships with people over whom they exercise power, such as professors with students they teach.

After interviewing two professors who said they heard Stachura and the student having sex and saw them kissing, the investigation found sufficient evidence that a sexual affair occurred. The professors declined to comment.

The university’s investigative records and more than 700 pages of court documents in restraining order and divorce and child custody proceedings against Stachura, show he repeatedly denied the affair, claimed a university investigator fabricated evidence and that colleagues acted because of long-standing conflicts with him.

Chico State opted for a light discipline fearing anything harsher could have been overturned in arbitration since the student did not complain and the affair was consensual, said Andrew Staples, Chico State spokesman in a statement issued Tuesday.

He added:

“…the circumstances of this case may be considered differently today”

as the views of California State University system and its faculty union “regarding faculty misconduct continue to evolve.”

The university “thoroughly investigated the alleged threats following the settlement agreement and disciplinary action,” he added.

In an interview with EdSource, Stachura insisted the investigation “was a witch hunt,” denied having the affair and said he didn’t threaten his colleagues.

Stachura ultimately agreed to an unpaid suspension for a third of a semester after the university denied his appeal.

Executive Order 1096 Appeal Response from The California State University Office of the Chancellor. October 15, 2020.

Stachura was later in 2021 on administrative leave for about a month while the threat allegations were investigated. He returned to work in September 2021.

Guns and bullets

Stachura’s estranged wife, Miranda King, said in a 2021 Butte County Superior Court restraining order request that Stachura “confided in me that he had purchased (a) semi-automatic shotgun, a handgun, and hollow-point bullets to kill his two co-workers and then himself.” Stachura, she told the court, “said he was planning on shooting them.”

He “was very specific that he bought hollow-point bullets for maximum damage and took the guns to (a shooting) range so he’d know how to shoot them and be accurate,” King told the court in writing.  He “believed there was a conspiracy at work. He had many conversations with me about how angry he was about his co-workers for reporting him. He often referred to these women as bitches and couldn’t seem to let go of the fact that they had complained about his behavior.”

King also told the court she knew of the affair and had seen on Stachura’s phone photos of her husband and the student.

In his court filings, Stachura denied making threats, saying he told King he’d only had a dream about a shooting and bought guns for home defense during Covid-19 before allegations of the affair arose.

He told EdSource,

“I never made any threats to these people.”

King filed a court document in August 2021 related to the alleged threat: a receipt in Stachura’s name for 10 boxes of 12-gauge double-aught buck shotgun shells and several boxes of 10mm handgun ammunition bought at a Chico gun store and shooting range on Oct. 15, 2020.

That was the same date that Tina Leung, the CSU Chancellor’s Office manager of investigations, appeals and compliance, emailed Stachura her denial of his appeal in the affair case.

The threat allegations became known to Chico State officials months later, in August 2021.

Stachura told EdSource in an interview he only kept birdshot shells for his shotgun, “which (are) basically lethal to a squirrel.” Asked why he bought the far-deadlier buckshot, he twice said he didn’t recall the transaction.

But, moments later, he said he did remember the buckshot purchase. It was unrelated to the appeal denial, which he said he expected and that it didn’t upset him.

He said he just decided coincidentally that day to stock up on ammo that had been “impossible to purchase” during Covid, calling the timing “unfortunate.”

The pistol bullets were hollow points, the kind his wife described. “Those are the best for home defense,” he said. “This isn’t some kind of crazy purchase.”

Risk potential

After learning of the alleged threats in mid-August 2021, Chico State hired former FBI agent Stephen Carter, of the Threat Assessment Group, to assess Stachura.  The professor was about to return to a full semester of teaching. The discipline over the affair was behind him.

Carter told Chico State officials that if they believed King’s “report of homicidal intent toward the two professors and believe that (Stachura) remains angry toward the two professors, it may be appropriate to conclude that (Stachura) does pose an unacceptable risk of violence to the workplace,” and should be terminated, Carter wrote to university Labor Relations Director Denise Hardy on Sept. 14, 2021.

Permitting Stachura to stay, he wrote, “would perpetuate the risk of potential harm to the two professors who provided evidence against (Stachura) and, potentially, the broader CSU community.”

The threat allegations originated with King, whom Stachura contradicted, Carter noted. What King told the court about Stachura suggests the presence of “risk factors for violence.” He also identified three “situational risk factors for violence” — the restraining order, the loss of an important relationship (his marriage) and family stress.

Carter also found that “despite apparent evidence to the contrary,” Stachura denied “any romantic or sexual contact with the student.”

While he didn’t know “with certainty, the truth of this matter,” Carter said he “assumed (Stachura) has not been truthful about the alleged affair,” adding “repeated dishonesty is also a risk factor for general violence.”

Carter declined an interview request.

Noise through the walls

In mid-March 2020, a professor in an office adjoining Stachura’s in Chico State’s Holt Hall heard sex sounds, she told an investigator, records show.

The professor said she recognized a graduate student’s voice. She heard her “stop vocalizing sex sounds, say ‘hold on’ and then the sex sounds started again,” records show. In the following weeks, she heard similar noises at least three more times. She told an investigator that Stachura “turned the space into a clubhouse. They were very loud and not hiding their relationship.”

In June, another professor knocked on Stachura’s door. There was shuffling, she told an investigator. The door opened. “There was a strange odor emanating from the room, a hot, no-air-flow kind of smell. The aroma was sweaty.” The student sat on a futon opened into a bed. Stachura sat nearby, shoeless.

David Stachura’s office door in the Department of Biological Sciences in Chico State Holt Hall.

After sharing their experiences, the professors asked Gordon Wolfe, a tenured colleague, to talk to Stachura. Wolfe taught biology at Chico State since 2000.

“It was impeding their ability to work because it was unprofessional and damaging to morale to have to listen to this. They just didn’t feel, as junior faculty, comfortable talking to him about anything personal,” Wolfe told EdSource.

Wolfe called Stachura, who “denied everything,” Wolfe said.

Despite the Covid lockdown, professors sometimes used their offices to teach remotely, and lab experiments had to be attended to. Stachura said he had to go in daily to feed his laboratory fish.

In late June 2020, one of the professors said she saw Stachura kissing the student in a laboratory, records show.

The kiss was reported to the university’s Title IX office, which opened an investigation.

Consensual relationships between professors and students they teach are banned to eliminate “the academic equivalent of the casting couch,” said lawyer Brett Sokolow, chairman of the advisory board of the National Association of Title IX Administrators. They protect those “at the lower end” of power dynamics, students competing for research jobs or a professor’s attention, he said. If a relationship between a student and a professor “becomes known, it can taint scholarship and academic success because people will always wonder whether it was truly merited.”

“We have a friendship”

The student denied the affair to investigator Robert Morton. EdSource is not identifying the student, and she didn’t return multiple messages.

She told Morton that sometimes she lunched with Stachura in his office. She didn’t know why anyone thought more was occurring.

Morton twice interviewed Stachura, who had responses to the allegations, documents show. The sex sounds must have come from movies he and the student watched.

“People have a terrible impression of me and this student. We do have a relationship. We have a friendship. This feels like a vindictive type of thing to teach me a lesson.”

Morton wrote Stachura’s “credibility was diminished because he prevaricated, deflected to other issues rather than answer questions, and changed his responses to significant questions after the first interview.”

Stachura “spent time attacking the credibility of witnesses rather than describing or explaining why he would be alone in his office with (the student) with the lights off, the futon extended into a bed, and with what a witness described as post-coital smells emanating from the room,” Morton wrote.

Stachura received notice on Sept. 15, 2020, that Morton determined he’d violated university policy by having “a consensual sexual relationship with a student over whom he had direct authority.” The appeal denial arrived a month later. In the denial, Leung noted Stachura “contended that the investigator falsified evidence.”  Leung rejected that argument.

A reckoning for CSU

The focus on how CSU, the nation’s largest public university, handles violations of gender and sexual harassment policies based on federal laws known as Title IX followed then-Chancellor Joseph I. Castro’s sudden resignation in February. It followed a USA Today report that as president of Fresno State University he failed to take proper action about sexual-harassment complaints against a subordinate. An investigation that CSU trustees ordered found Castro mishandled the matter. The trustees also ordered an ongoing review of cases at each of the system’s 23 campuses. Chico State was reviewed in September, said Michael Uhlenkamp, CSU spokesman.

Also in February, the Mercury News reported, former San Jose State President Mary Papazian ignored dire warnings upon taking office in 2016 that an athletic trainer was inappropriately touching female athletes. She didn’t act for three years. The fallout cost the school millions of dollars in settlements. The U.S. Justice Department now monitors SJSU’s Title IX compliance.

The threat allegations are also revealed amid heightened concerns over campus and workplace violence following the fatal shooting of a University of Arizona professor and the shootings of Virginia Walmart workers last month by a supervisor. They also arise a year after a worker at the Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose killed nine co-workers and himself in one of California’s deadliest workplace shootings.

Records across the CSI system show five employees (besides Stachura) had been found in inappropriate consensual relationships that were resolved between 2017 and early 2022. Three occurred at Chico State. The others involved San Francisco State and CSU San Bernardino. Records show the employees either resigned or were fired.

Chico State police officer Richard Gridley and kinesiology professor Michael Regan resigned before they were disciplined, records show. The university fired tenured professor Christopher Marks when an investigation concluded he had two banned relationships with students. Documents on those cases haven’t yet been released.

Summary information CSU released this year on Title IX and related cases resolved over five years shows 67 out of 103 resulted in employees leaving either by termination, resignation or retirement prior to being disciplined or by a contract or appointment not being renewed. Some facing termination dropped appeals and resigned, common moves in California public employment that eases finding work elsewhere.

Dr. Zebrafish

Stachura, 44, received a doctorate in cell and molecular biology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2006. He did postdoctoral research at UC San Diego before joining Chico State.

It wasn’t the career Stachura envisioned, King told EdSource. The couple married in 2010. “He was angry about being at Chico State. He thought other faculty members were below and beneath him,” she said. “He was angry when another faculty member would win an award, especially a female. He was angry and upset that he wasn’t a professor at Stanford.”

Stachura advanced from assistant to associate professor in 2016. His salary and benefits for 2020 totaled about $130,000, records show. He works primarily with zebrafish, a minnow used in nervous- and immune-system research. His pickup truck has vanity license plates: ZBRAFSH.

He also works part time for two biotech companies. Between 2016 and 2022, Stachura published or co-published at least 25 papers in academic journals, National Library of Medicine indexes show.

‘I fought this as hard as I could’

Chico State offered Stachura an “informal resolution” of his affair case that Provost Debra Larson approved on Dec. 1, 2020.

“I fought this as hard as I could. I decided to settle,” Stachura told EdSource.

Larson didn’t respond to questions.

Ann Olivarius, an international women’s rights attorney, said in an interview with EdSource that Stachura “acted egregiously and inappropriately by any analysis.” She also said Stachura created a hostile work environment for his colleagues by having sex in his office and allegedly threatening to kill the professors after they complained.

She also criticized Chico State for the settlement. The school, she said, is saying “it’s OK to conduct yourself like (Stachura) conducted himself and if you are working in the same department, well, shut up.”

Stachura’s reapplication for tenure was approved in the spring of 2021. That June, campus President Gayle Hutchinson announced Chico State’s Faculty Recognition and Support Committee had chosen Stachura as “Outstanding Professor” for the 2020-21 academic year. Neither Hutchinson nor committee members knew of the findings about the affair because the investigation was confidential and the campus was on Covid lockdown, said Staples, Chico State spokesman. “While the award was not rescinded, the university has since put in stronger protocols to ensure that faculty members who are nominated for future awards represent the university’s values.”

Freaked out

After the case ended, Stachura’s marriage collapsed. King filed for divorce in July 2021 and requested a restraining order, claiming he was “a very heavy drinker” and repeatedly threatened her. “I am very concerned about David’s mental state.” She told the court his alleged affair continued.

She then disclosed the alleged threat against the professors. Judge Sandra McLean granted the restraining order, requiring Stachura to surrender his guns to Chico Police.

King’s attorney informed the professors of the alleged threat.

Word spread quickly through the biology department. Wolfe went to court and copied documents. “My colleagues were completely freaked out,” he told EdSource.

Wolfe sent an email with the subject line DANGER to College of Natural Sciences Dean David Hassenzahl on Aug. 16, 2021. The two professors “are both terrified,” he wrote.

Stachura, Wolfe wrote, had already shown “a history of impulsive and destructive behavior,” Wolfe wrote, a reference to the affair. The threats made “it impossible for (Stachura) to continue as a colleague.”

Hassenzahl said the university would investigate. Stachura was put on paid leave two days after Wolfe’s alert.  He remained on leave for about a month, then returned to work.

One professor who was not a target of the alleged threat was so concerned when Stachura returned that she soon left the university.

Chico State “didn’t act to protect the faculty, staff or students,” Cawa Tran, now a University of San Diego professor, said in an interview. She said she knows of other professors actively looking to leave and another who turned down a biology department job after learning of the allegations.

“The university essentially forced us all to continue working with him. And this was especially difficult for the women in the department.”

Tran said. “I left due to psychological damages sustained from the fear, anger and injustice I felt from the situation.”

Daniel J. Willis, EdSource data journalist, and Rick Silva of the Chico Enterprise-Record contributed to this story.

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  1. Birdi 2 months ago2 months ago

    It’s terrible that any threats of violence are being ignored, especially by an employee. It appears that the university is not listening to this threat, and I see this as a major mistake considering the gun murders already dictating what America has become. I consider that the university will be responsible, if or when a tragedy does occur!

  2. Anonymous 2 months ago2 months ago

    Man buys hollow point bullets on same day his appeal is denied and says it is an unfortunate coincidence. Professor in same department says she left due to toxic environment and others are looking to leave out of fears for safety. Unfortunate coincidence?

  3. Anonymous 2 months ago2 months ago

    I 100% believe his ex-wife. If you have ever really gotten to know Stachura, you would know he is an arrogant man that always tries to undermine CSUs system. He repeatedly would say that he cannot be touched and constantly badmouthed the other professors in the department.

    Talk about toxic work environment! CSU Chico shame on you for not doing more!!

  4. Barbara E Thompson 2 months ago2 months ago

    Resign Stachura!

  5. Something Fishy 2 months ago2 months ago

    Reading through this, it seems like this professor and graduate student had a consensual relationship. The professor was married at the time and his now ex-wife has gone public to smear his reputation. I would imagine the FBI investigation would have resulted in criminal charges and or termination of employment if the alleged threats stated by the ex-wife were factual.

    Replies

    • Kevin 2 months ago2 months ago

      That’s why people are angry! Because the ex FBI agents’ report should’ve resulted in a termination of employment and/ or criminal charges but it did not! Him not facing consequences doesn’t mean he’s innocent. It means Chico State was negligent and swept this under the rug rather than address it. We should be furious

    • Brad Bushman 2 months ago2 months ago

      It was a retired FBI behaviorist who did a PRIVATE 3rd party investigation. The FBI did not investigate this nut case.

  6. Sam 2 months ago2 months ago

    People saying this is a witch hunt clearly did not read this article. What more evidence do you need than what was reported here??? An ex-FBI agent literally concluded he was a danger to the campus community. Other professors came out publicly to share the dangers and harassment and lack of protection they experienced at their workplace. Why does it matter that he was nice to a few students??!! That’s like saying oh a mass … Read More

    People saying this is a witch hunt clearly did not read this article. What more evidence do you need than what was reported here??? An ex-FBI agent literally concluded he was a danger to the campus community. Other professors came out publicly to share the dangers and harassment and lack of protection they experienced at their workplace.

    Why does it matter that he was nice to a few students??!! That’s like saying oh a mass murderer can’t be that bad because he was nice to me. Does that justify what he has done? More importantly though, the fault is Chico State’s. They knew all along and did nothing to protect the students, faculty, or staff. They especially did nothing to protect the few women in this department. Everyone in the chain of command must be fired and held accountable for this. The president, provost, dean. They were all negligent and did nothing but protect the perpetrator

  7. Concern Mom 2 months ago2 months ago

    Are you waiting for another mass shooting? This so called teacher of the year is threatening to the entire campus. This is ridiculous!

  8. Anonymous 2 months ago2 months ago

    So several women professors do what they are required to by University policy and cooperate with Title IX policies; the person who is the subject of the complaint, whose credibility is extremely weak given changing stories and denials of reports of multiple witnesses, is reported to make death threats and is documented to have bought dum-dum bullets the day his appeal is denied; then these professors are told in effect, thanks for following mandatory University … Read More

    So several women professors do what they are required to by University policy and cooperate with Title IX policies; the person who is the subject of the complaint, whose credibility is extremely weak given changing stories and denials of reports of multiple witnesses, is reported to make death threats and is documented to have bought dum-dum bullets the day his appeal is denied; then these professors are told in effect, thanks for following mandatory University policies, you now have to work with someone who almost certainly threatened your life as a result. And a science department with too few women faculty are losing them, their lives are thoroughly disrupted, and the University has essentially told everyone–if you follow policy and cooperate with mandatory Title IX reporting and investigations, we’ll then hang you out to dry. What an institutional failure!

  9. Dalton 2 months ago2 months ago

    No doubt the grants Stachura brought in were more important to Chico state than doing the right thing. This whole thing is disgusting

  10. Anonymous 2 months ago2 months ago

    As a female student, reading this article made me feel unsafe at Chico State. If getting reported was enough to make him threaten to kill, I worry what he will do now that everyone knows.

  11. T. R. 2 months ago2 months ago

    Just wondering why you decided to post an article airing this dirty laundry when the man in question is 1) employed on campus and 2) owned guns and threatened professors’ lives. Aren’t you afraid of inciting his rage and having something awful happen? Why do you publish this finals week when we’re all forced to be on campus, and not say, next week when most staff and students are not present?

  12. Diana Goetsch 2 months ago2 months ago

    Wow. What do you have to do to get fired at Chico State? Now that they anointed this ticking time bomb “Professor of the Year,” how many more colleagues will flee for their safety? This doesn’t look like it will end well.

  13. anonymous 2 months ago2 months ago

    This is gross. Chico State should have taken stricter action, especially with the presence of gun violence.

  14. Witch Hunt 2 months ago2 months ago

    Without any hard evidence, it is just one word against another.

  15. Anon 2 months ago2 months ago

    He was an amazing professor. He was fair and kind and truly one of the best. But so was Dr. Cawa Tran. It’s a sad and upsetting thing to hear that a professor was acting inappropriately on campus and putting colleagues in such a terrible position, and was not appropriately discharged. It’s sad that colleagues felt unsafe and the school did not protect them. If this doesn’t show you that Chico State cares about the … Read More

    He was an amazing professor. He was fair and kind and truly one of the best. But so was Dr. Cawa Tran.
    It’s a sad and upsetting thing to hear that a professor was acting inappropriately on campus and putting colleagues in such a terrible position, and was not appropriately discharged. It’s sad that colleagues felt unsafe and the school did not protect them.

    If this doesn’t show you that Chico State cares about the grants he’s bringing in over the students, I don’t know what does.

    Regardless of alleged threats, sex on campus with multiple witnesses should result in being fired.

  16. Anonymous 2 months ago2 months ago

    Sounds biased. No hard evidence.

    Replies

    • Brandon 2 months ago2 months ago

      I trust the evidence because those who provided it are trustworthy. As an alumni, I’m heavily disappointed in the university and the individual at fault.

    • Cameron 2 months ago2 months ago

      Sounds bias? Two professors felt so unsafe by the whole situation that they left the university, and your take is “sounds bias”? The article even references an 3rd party investigation which you reply “sounds bias.” This isn’t a situation that should be taken lightly and Chico State’s response is incredibly disappointing.

  17. Grace 2 months ago2 months ago

    I wish I felt safer as a student at Chico State. This is sad and disappointing.

  18. Derek Sayeghe 2 months ago2 months ago

    Guy got off way too easy, deserves jail time for this.

  19. Adri 2 months ago2 months ago

    Receiving teacher of the year in the same year, despicable by the school. Chico state failed to protect students.

    Additionally, the intimacy occurred at school none the less.