Editorial: Canary in the Wildcats’ den

Chico State leadership exiting under cloud of scandal

Chico State campus. (Photo by Ryan Guy, via Wikimedia Commons)

When Gayle Hutchinson became Chico State president in March 2016, optimism reigned. She made history as the university’s first woman president and the first openly gay president in the CSU system. More than that, she brought to Chico the promise of a fresh start after faculty issued a vote of no confidence in her predecessor, Paul Zingg. Hutchinson took a 100-day “listening tour” to reconnect with the campus, where she’d worked 23 years, after three years as provost at CSU Channel Islands.

This is not how her presidency will be remembered. When she retires June 30—or sooner, if pressed—her legacy will carry the stain of a scandal worse than the mismanagement claims that opened the job in the first place.

Ahead of winter break, a California education publication, EdSource, broke the news that biology professor David Stachura allegedly threatened to shoot colleagues who’d exposed his affair with a student. University administrators knew of the affair and threats, yet not only gave him tenure but also honored him as Outstanding Professor that academic year, 2020-21.

Chico State responded by suspending Stachura and rescinding his award—but only after the media coverage. Provost Debra Larson resigned. Hutchinson remained, diminished, as faculty put off a no-confidence vote to call for the CSU Board of Trustees to investigate.

Larson headed home to the Midwest, most certainly into retirement. Earlier in the year, she interviewed for president openings at North Dakota State and Northern Michigan. Now, her resume has lost luster. She and Hutchinson are tied to Stachura, defined by decisions that put the campus at risk.

Meanwhile, Chico State is back to where it started, if not worse, before Hutchinson. It’s a university in a leadership crisis. Faculty and students distrust the administration. Strachura isn’t an isolated example, just the most extreme instance. Other grievances are surfacing on social media.

Hutchinson’s successor faces an uphill battle. We hope the next president does more than listen, but actually hears what the campus community needs.

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