Chico State Chancellor Debra Larson resigns amid protests over professor’s alleged affair and threats

Credit: Chico State University

debra larson

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Chico State Chancellor Debra Larson announced her immediate resignation Friday afternoon, just over a week after EdSource reported that she said goodbye to the light discipline of a biology teacher who had an affair with a college student. postgraduate, which allowed him to ascend.

The professor, David Stachura, later allegedly told his ex-wife that he wanted to kill two professors who cooperated in the sex investigation. A biology professor said Monday that Stachura made similar threats.

“I’m not your chancellor anymore,” Larson said at the end of a four-and-a-half-hour Academic Senate meeting. A motion of no confidence in it by senators failed shortly before the announcement, with those in the opposition saying it should be taken after more was learned about the Stachura case.

Larson, 66, a junior official from Chico State, said she offered her resignation to campus president Gayle Hutchinson on Monday and Hutchinson accepted it on Thursday.

Larson said she had been planning to retire and return to her native Midwest to help care for sick family members. But the Stachura case “certainly has impacted me,” she said. “The time is right for me to move away from Chico State.” She has worked there since 2017 and is the former dean of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s school of engineering.

A teaching assistant in the biology department, Molly Tuttle, told the Academic Senate meeting that Larson was resigning to avoid accountability. She is “turning around and running,” Tuttle said.

Senators long debated whether to include a vote of no confidence in a lengthy resolution on the Stachura scandal that finally passed. It included asking California State University administrators to conduct an independent investigation into how Chico State handled Stachura and for the campus to seek a gun violence restraining order against him under California’s “red flag” law.

Acting campus police chief Christopher Nicodemus told the meeting that Stachura turned over weapons to campus police on Thursday. It was not clear how many. When his wife, Miranda King, obtained a restraining order against Stachura last year, a judge ordered her to turn over her weapons to Chico police. That restraining order has expired. Stachura said in an interview on November 29 that he had not yet recovered those weapons.

The restraining order request was prompted by biology professor Kristen Gorman, who urged the Senate to “prevent (Stachura) from owning guns and buying guns.”

On the date the CSU Chancellor’s Office rejected his appeal in the sex case, Oct. 15, 2020, EdSource reported last week, he purchased two boxes of hollow point bullets and more than 50 rounds of shotgun shells from 12-gauge buckshot. In an interview with EdSource, Stachura twice said he didn’t remember the purchases and later called the date a coincidence.

Stachura is on administrative suspension while the university investigates new threat information from the biology professor. He is barred from the campus and has issued keys and magnetic cards to the buildings. Holt Hall, home of the biology department, is under police surveillance.

The Senate resolution also called on the university to fire Stachura immediately and make a comprehensive effort to ensure the campus is safe and students feel safe there before classes resume next month.

Friday’s Academic Senate meeting, the third in just over a week at Stachura, lasted more than four hours on the last day of the fall semester and capped a week of outrage and expressions of fear at the school of 16,000 students.

EdSource reported Dec. 8 that a university researcher discovered in 2020 that Stachura, 44, had a consensual sexual relationship with a graduate student he was supervising, a violation of the university’s sexual harassment policy intended to prevent academics from coerce students into having intimate relationships.

Two teachers who say they heard Stachura having sex with the student in his office and found them in his office with an open futon on a bed and the room reeking of sex, cooperated with the investigation. One of the teachers also said that he saw Stachura and the student kissing in a lab. Stachura denied the affair, a claim she continued in an interview with EdSource.

The university settled the matter with Stachura on December 1, 2020. He was suspended without pay for one-third of the semester. He withdrew an application for promotion to full professor with tenure. The university agreed not to include the investigation in his personnel file, allowing him to reapply for promotion, which was later approved. He was also named the university’s “Outstanding Professor” for the 2020-2021 academic year, an award that was rescinded Wednesday.

Larson signed the settlement agreement for the university. Since the scandal broke, she and Hutchinson have said they were limited in what they could do with the case. The student also denied the affair, and there were concerns that if Stachura took the case to arbitration, he might not have been penalized at all.

On Friday, Larson said again that she and her staff were bound on the matter. “They and I did the best we could,” she said.

In an apology to the campus after more than 900 students, faculty and staff attended an emotionally charged online meeting Monday, Hutchinson said: “We are determined to do better.”

At the end of Friday’s meeting, math professor Rick Ford offered a stark assessment of the situation.

For students to feel safe and for their parents to send them to Chico State, there is a lot of work to be done, he said, adding, “We have a very damaged reputation in the public eye.”

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