UC regents fire tenured professor after finding he sexually assaulted high school student

Professor Ting Guo, UC Davis was terminated after an investigation found he sexually assaulted an 18-year-old high school student.

Professor Ting Guo, UC Davis was terminated after an investigation found he sexually assaulted an 18-year-old high school student.

UC Davis

The University of California Board of Regents on Thursday fired a tenured UC Davis professor after an investigation found that the professor sexually assaulted an 18-year-old high school student he had mentored more than a decade ago.

“The regents made their decision at the request of UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May and on the recommendation of UC President Michael Drake, in accordance with university policy,” said a UC Davis spokesperson in an email to The Chronicle.

The regents terminated Ting Guo, the former chair of the chemistry department, in a closed session at UCLA after a two-year investigation into allegations made by a woman who said, in a 2020 lawsuit filed against Guo and the UC Board of Regents, that Guo raped her on three separate occasions.

“An investigation by the UC Davis Title IX office found that Guo had sexually assaulted a high school student who had worked in his laboratory,” said Fell in a statement. “The disciplinary process concluded with a recommendation that Guo be dismissed from the faculty.”

Guo did not respond to requests for comment via phone.

In court documents, Doe alleged that, in February 2010, when she was in his office, he closed the door, told her to turn around and spanked her. She was 18 at the time and Guo was 46, according to the lawsuit.

That August, she presented Guo with gifts to thank him for his mentorship, per her cultural custom. She met him at his office and assisted him with carrying the bags to his nearby home. After Guo invited Doe into his home, she alleged that he offered her beer, which she refused, showed her his DVD collection and talked about science. He told her to sit on his lap, she said, before groping and then raping her. She left with the gifts she intended to give to him.

“I biked home frightened,” she said in a statement given to the UC Santa Barbara Police Department where she attended college in 2018.

After the rape, she said, she did not want to believe what happened because it was such a terrible thing to register, according to court documents.

On a second occasion, the woman alleged that Guo requested she stop by his house. She went because she didn’t want to believe it would happen again, according to the lawsuit. She said the professor raped her a second time and that her body reacted to the trauma, which concerned Guo according to court records.

He allegedly offered her $60, which she initially refused, before he told her to give the money to her mother. Thinking that if she refused she would be a “bad daughter,” she said she accepted the money, but never spent it according to the lawsuit.

The third alleged rape occurred in September 2010 after the woman had a planned visit to the UC Davis physics lab. She said she told Guo she only had two hours of sleep, so he offered to let her sleep in his home. Once she arrived near Guo’s home, she said, she decided against going in, parked her car a few houses down and took a nap under a tree. After she woke up, Guo saw her walking to her car and asked her to come to his house. She reluctantly agreed and he raped her again, she alleged.

During all three rapes, she recalled being frozen in fear, according to court documents. Freezing, or “tonic immobility,” is a typical response to trauma when aggression and fleeing are not seen as viable options, according to numerous studies on the phenomenon.

In 2011, the lawsuit states she told her family about the rapes and, at the urging of her brother, reached out to a rape crisis center. Doe was also placed on involuntary holds for mental health during this time according to the lawsuit.

In 2018, court documents state, that she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to the alleged rapes and attended group therapy. Also in 2018, the lawsuit states, she reached out to UC Santa Barbara’s CARE office, which provides resources and support for victims of sexual assault and sexual harassment. She was encouraged to make an anonymous report to the UC Santa Barbara Police Department, which referred the report to the UC Davis Police Department.

“UC Davis police notified the City of Davis police because the report indicated that three sexual assaults had allegedly occurred within the city limits but not on the UC Davis campus,” the statement by UC Davis on Jan. 12 said. “Consistent with the complainant’s request, UC Davis police also shared limited, de-identified information with the Title IX office, which was not sufficient to commence an investigation at that time.”

In a statement Thursday, a UC Davis spokesperson said an external investigation by Eve Peek Fichtner, a partner with Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, will look into the protocols and practices governing communication between the UC Davis Police Department and the UC Davis Title IX office.

The Chronicle last week first revealed the investigation by the UC Davis Title IX office, which responds to allegations of sexual assault. Guo has not been criminally charged.

“No charges were filed due to ‘lack of sufficient evidence,’” Wendy Wilcox, Executive Assistant to Yolo County District Attorney, said in an email response.

The woman’s lawsuit was dismissed in 2021 due to the state’s statute of limitations, but a California law change in September 2022 known as Assembly Bill 2777 allows the case to be refiled in court. The woman’s lawyer said they plan to refile this year.

In response to questions from The Chronicle, UC Davis officials said in a Jan. 12 statement that they placed Guo on paid leave in January 2021 while launching the investigation into the accusations in the suit. Since then, Guo had been barred from entering the UC Davis campus without prior authorization, officials said.

Guo was fired due to a violation of the faculty code of conduct, which includes the right of faculty members to be judged by their colleagues. Guo is the second tenured UC Davis professor to be fired by the Board of Regents according to Andy Fell, a spokesperson for UC Davis.

“University discipline, as distinguished from other forms of reproval or administrative actions, should be reserved for faculty misconduct that is either serious in itself or is made serious through its repetition, or its consequences,” according to the policy.

Under the policy, faculty members are prohibited from committing sexual violence or sexual harassment to members of the “University community.”

According to Transparent California , Guo made over $204,000 in pay and benefits in 2021, despite being on administrative leave.

Guo once directed “SEED,” a program geared toward disadvantaged local high school students, and was involved for many years in the Young Scholars Program, a summer residential program held on the UC Davis campus. In 2002, he received a grant of approximately $500,000 from the National Science Foundation to teach high school students about molecular structures. Though Doe received mentorship from Guo, the relationship was informal and not part of these programs.

The UC Davis Young Scholars Program website recently removed Guo from the list of mentors who worked with four students and replaced him with a postdoctoral researcher in Guo’s NanoFast laboratory.

When asked how the name came to be removed, a UC Davis spokesperson responded that they did not know.

UC Davis Chancellor Gary S. May called for an independent external investigation into Guo’s involvement in multiple youth programs at the university, which will be conducted by Eve Peek Fichtner, a partner with Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo, according to the school’s Jan. 12 statement.

The University has not responded to requests for detailed documents from the investigations into Guo.

The UC Davis statement Thursday said that the University is committed to responding promptly and effectively to reports of sexual violence, harassment and discrimination and encouraged those affected to contact Harassment and Discrimination Assistance and Prevention Program and UC Davis’ CARE Office.

“We are grateful that the Regents agreed with our recommendation to terminate the employment of Dr. Guo effectively immediately,” said May as part of the statement. “Sexual misconduct is not tolerated at UC Davis. We encourage people to report abuse and seek support.”

UC Davis is reviewing all youth programs involving minors and checking on whether Chemistry Department leaders knew or should have known of Guo’s misconduct between 2010 and 2021, according to the statement.

Kathleen Quinn and Jeremiah O. Rhodes are students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.