Former professor awaits trial in connection to felony charges

Former professor and chair of the philosophy and religious studies department faces trial. Collegian file photo. 


Correction since publication at 12:07 a.m. on April 19: The headline read “Former professor awaits sentencing in connection to felony charges.” It was corrected to “Former professor awaits trial in connection to felony charges.”

Content warning: references to child sexual abuse material, CSAM.

Almost 15 months have gone by since Tiberiu Popa, former associate professor of philosophy and chair of the philosophy and religious studies department, was arrested on felony charges related to child sexual abuse material, CSAM. 

In the days following his arrest on Jan. 21, 2022, it was reported that Popa was set to go to trial on April 7, 2022, but he has yet to have his day in court due to eight reschedulings

Popa worked at the university for 17 years before being charged with 10 counts of possession of child pornography with an aggravating factor — which speaks to the exploitative nature of the content. 

Arie Likhtman, a junior critical communication and media studies major, took a class with Popa in the fall 2022 semester — the semester prior to when Popa was arrested. He said he still remembers the day he opened his phone to the timely warning Butler University Police Department, BUPD, sent out about Popa’s arrest. 

“When the news came out, I was a little floored,” Likhtman said. “It was just striking to see a professor I had charged with something like that because that was just really gross … It was kind of [ironic] to me in a morbid way because a large part of what he was teaching was ethics.” 

Popa’s arrest unfolded after the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, IMPD, was alerted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children of a case of children being sexually exploited online. IMPD found that Popa’s Butler email address was associated with 24 uploaded files. 

“I didn’t really process the gravity of the situation, like [it felt like just another news] story,” Likhtman said. “Then it was just wild [to think] I had him in class, and I stood two feet away from this man … A couple days later it really set in, especially once the mug shot went up, I was like, ‘Oh Lord, even our little Butler bubble isn’t safe.’” 

Officers were granted search warrants to access Popa’s residence, vehicle and office in Jordan Hall. Popa initially denied viewing or saving any of the pornographic material he was found in possession of, but he later admitted to viewing it on his laptop. 

Professor of religion Chad Bauman was named the interim department chair after Popa’s arrest. Now, after being appointed as the chair of the philosophy and religious studies department, Bauman said it is hard to think back on Popa’s arrest and what it did to the department. 

“The days and weeks after the sudden arrest and departure of Professor Popa were difficult ones,” Bauman said in an email to The Butler Collegian. “Faculty, staff and students in the department were shocked and hurt by the news.” 

Within that time, however, Bauman said the department was able to come together and rise above the shocking blow. 

“We saw members of the departmental community come together to support one another, as well as to work together to ensure the enduring vitality of the department’s programs,” Bauman said in his email. “We are grateful for this and grateful to the university more broadly for allowing us to move forward with the philosophy program’s faculty at full strength.” 

Likhtman, who is a philosophy minor, took a couple semesters to step away from the department after Popa’s arrest but has since resumed classes to fulfill his minor. He said it is admirable to see how the community has come together after Popa’s absence. 

“Because Dr. Popa is gone, the department hired two excellent faculty members, professors [Corey] Reed and [Lavender] McKittrick-Sweitzer, who are both really progressive in what they believe, and [they are] really brilliant people and educators that I’ve been lucky to have,” Likhtman said. “So I’m not saying it was a good thing that this happened, but I’m saying the department has grown in exceptional ways.” 

Due to the heinous nature of the crimes Popa is charged with, Likhtman said if found guilty, he thinks the longer Popa is away from society the better. 

Around the time of his arrest, Popa was released from jail on bond. The latest rescheduling set Popa’s trial for 9 a.m. on June 28. 

The Butler Collegian will continue to follow this story. 


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