Morrie Craig is out.
After a fight that dragged on for more than a year in courtrooms and committee rooms, a judge has ruled that Oregon State University acted justly in deciding to fire the tenured professor for violating bullying and sexual harassment policies in a case involving two students and a faculty member.
A toxicology specialist in the College of Veterinary Medicine who has been with the university since 1974, Craig is highly regarded for his work in bioremediation, plant toxicology and drug testing of “animal athletes” such as Iditarod sled dogs.
But on May 16, 2017, OSU put him on notice that he was under investigation for complaints of abusive behavior. Following a two-day hearing last September, a faculty committee found he had bullied two students who worked in his toxicology lab and had sexually harassed one of the students and a faculty member. On Oct. 30, President Ed Ray sent him a termination letter.
Craig fought back, appealing his case to the Benton County Circuit Court and the OSU Board of Trustees, but to no avail. The board upheld Craig’s firing this spring. The court, after twice issuing stays to halt the termination proceedings, ruled last week that Craig could be sacked.
A final judgment was filed in court on Thursday, making Craig’s termination effective immediately, although he says he is considering a further legal appeal.
In reviewing OSU’s handling of the case, Benton County Circuit Judge Matthew Donohue did not take any new evidence but, rather, reviewed the record of the OSU proceedings and considered motions from lawyers representing both parties.
In an opinion issued Sept. 12, Donohue wrote that “the Court concludes that substantial evidence supports the committee’s determination that Petitioner violated the University’s bullying and sexual harassment policies and that those violations support a termination for cause.”
New details emerge
OSU has never publicly disclosed specifics of the allegations against Craig or the names of the individuals involved, saying information about students and employee discipline is confidential. And even though the university filed more than 1,100 pages of documents with the court, the vast majority of that information also has been shielded from public view.
The cloak of secrecy shrouding the case has made it difficult for the public to assess whether the university was applying appropriate sanctions for unacceptable behavior or, as Craig has argued, pushing him out for political reasons.
Some additional details, however, emerged in Donohue’s written opinion, shining new light on the case.
Using only their initials, the judge identified Craig’s victims as DT, a male doctoral student who worked in Craig’s campus laboratory; MH, a female undergrad working in the lab; and KC, a female faculty member.
The bullying allegations mainly have to do with how Craig treated the two student employees at the lab.
According to OSU records reviewed by the judge, MH was supposed to work no more than 20 hours a week at Craig’s lab, but he often pressured her to work much more than that, often 30 to 35 hours per week, as well as working late at night and on weekends. If she did not show up for work as requested, Donohue wrote, Craig would repeatedly text her or leave phone messages and would sometimes come to her home or dorm to pressure her to work.
As a result, MH told investigators, she experienced panic attacks and nightmares and her academic performance suffered.
In DT’s case, Craig was not only his employer but was also the academic adviser for his Ph.D. dissertation.
According to records reviewed by the judge, DT initially agreed to do 20 hours a week of lab maintenance and project work, but Craig expanded the student’s schedule to as much as 50 to 70 hours per week, including late nights and weekends. The student was also directed to organize Craig’s personal and professional photos, prepare presentations for him, maintain his professional profiles on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook, take dictation and manage his email correspondence, Donohue wrote in his opinion. Craig even required DT to troubleshoot his home computer and audiovisual system, the records state, although it appears he was paid extra for that.
DT testified that when he complained about his workload, it would be reduced for a time and then increased again to unmanageable levels. In addition, he said, Craig became upset when he complained about his workload to another professor and delayed signing off on his doctoral dissertation, instead directing DT to do more work. DT told investigators the situation left him depressed and impacted his ability to manage a serious health condition.
KC, the faculty member who accused Craig of sexual harassment, said he was on the committee that hired her and she thought he had some say in whether she would be granted tenure. She said he obtained her phone number and repeatedly tried to contact her both before and after she arrived on campus. She said she tried to avoid his persistent attempts at contact but never directly confronted him on the matter.
After KC had an emergency appendectomy, she said Craig pointed to her scar and commented that she had a “zipper belly.” She said she told him she did not want him making reference to parts of her body but he later made a similar comment and reached toward her belly as if he meant to touch it. He also put his hands on her shoulders on multiple occasions.
MH, the female undergraduate who worked in Craig’s lab, also claimed sexual harassment by him. She told an OSU investigator that, in addition to coming to her residence to pressure her into working, Craig sometimes “would lay his head on her shoulder, rest his hands in her lap or put his hand on her upper thigh when they were working together,” Donohue wrote in his opinion. In addition, Craig took MH out alone for expensive dinners, grilled her about her boyfriend and told her that, when he was her age, “he would have multiple dates with women on the same night.”
In both cases, Donohue concluded, the OSU committee was justified in concluding that Craig’s actions toward the women created a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment.
The last word?
It’s not clear whether OSU administrators ever warned Craig about his behavior before initiating sanctions proceedings against him. Vice President Steve Clark, the university’s chief spokesperson, said he couldn’t discuss the specifics of Craig’s case because of employee privacy laws, but he did offer a general statement.
“OSU’s policies on bullying and harassment consider the severity of the allegations, as well as the length of time over which the behavior has occurred,” he wrote in an email to the newspaper.
“This can also encompass multiple instances of less severe behavior. Discipline related to these behaviors is tailored to the severity and/or ongoing nature of the behavior. For example, there are often lower level disciplinary steps that would precede termination.”
For his part, Craig continues to insist he did nothing wrong, despite the rulings against him.
“I know in my heart that I am not guilty of bullying or harassment of anyone. That is why I fought so hard over the past year to prove my innocence in the court system,” he wrote in an email.
“When the university wants to target someone for removal, they can always find a way. I find it unsettling how a university legal system can twist and exaggerate evidence to the point of simple untruth.”
Craig’s attorney, Dan Armstrong, said his client is considering yet another challenge to his termination, this time to the Oregon Court of Appeals. Armstrong said Judge Donohue “glossed over” some key legal issues in his ruling, including the fact that the faculty committee that determined Craig’s fate was advised behind closed doors by OSU’s own attorney.
University administrators, however, don’t see it that way. According to Clark, the judge got it right.
“We respect the court’s ruling, which confirms the action taken by President Ray and the OSU Board of Trustees,” he wrote in his email. “It also confirms the importance of OSU’s commitment to a safe campus free of sexual harassment and bullying.”