Attorneys for Oregon State University have asked a judge to seal the record of termination proceedings against a tenured faculty member while he reviews the university’s actions to determine whether the firing was fair.
The motion was filed Wednesday evening by two lawyers with the Portland firm of Miller Nash, hired by OSU to represent the university in the case of toxicology professor Morrie Craig. He was terminated on Oct. 30 after a faculty committee found he had bullied two students who worked in his lab and had sexually harassed a student and a faculty member.
Craig filed a petition in Benton County Circuit Court for a review of his case, and on Dec. 5 Judge Matthew Donohue granted his request, directing the university to restore Craig to his job for the time being. He also ordered OSU to hand over the records of the termination proceedings for his evaluation by Jan. 5.
An OSU spokesman said the university will comply with that order, but its legal team has taken steps to shield the details of Craig’s dismissal from public view.
On Dec. 11, OSU attorneys filed a motion to seal Craig’s original petition for a writ of review because it identifies two students who provided information detrimental to the professor during the university’s investigation of allegations against him.
Craig’s attorney, Dan Armstrong of Heilig, Misfeldt & Armstrong in Corvallis, objected to that request in a Dec. 15 response, and early Wednesday afternoon he filed a slightly updated version of his original petition.
That evening OSU’s lawyers expanded their earlier request with another motion asking that all the records ordered by the court be placed under seal, which would mean that the judge and attorneys for both sides would have access to the documents, but the public would not.
The motion argues that “the victims of Dr. Craig’s harassing and bullying conduct should not be forced to endure further distress by having their names and details of their interactions easily accessible to the public.”
In a court hearing on Thursday, OSU attorney Cody Elliott asked that the amended petition for writ of review be sealed as well.
Donohue said he would consider all three motions to seal as one.
“I’m going to roll everything together,” he said.
The judge also said he needed more information before making his decision. Donohue directed Elliott and Armstrong to prepare briefs by Thursday on how the federal Family Education Rights and Privacy Act relates to the case.
No formal arguments were made during the hearing, which lasted less than 15 minutes, but attorneys for both sides provided a glimpse into their thinking on the matter.
Armstrong pushed to keep the entire record public on grounds of fairness.
“You give these guys an inch, they’re going to take a mile on redacting stuff,” he told the judge. “Dr. Craig’s reputation has been shattered … and all of a sudden the public’s not going to be able to see anything.”
Elliott pushed back, arguing for privacy.
“This is not a situation where the public needs to know the victims of harassment,” he countered.
A public records request filed by the Gazette-Times for documents related to Craig’s termination was partially granted by the university, but many of the requested documents were withheld on the grounds that OSU faculty records “do not meet the definition of a public record” under state law.
The newspaper has asked the university to reconsider that decision and, at a minimum, release the records in a redacted form that protects the identities of Craig’s accusers while providing full details of the allegations against him and the process that led to his firing.
The Gazette-Times also has asked Judge Donohue to balance privacy considerations with the widespread public interest in the case and reject OSU’s blanket motion to seal the entire record of Craig’s termination proceedings.