Oregon State University can't fire embattled professor Morrie Craig just yet, a judge ruled on Tuesday.
Benton County Circuit Judge Matthew Donohue granted a motion filed by Craig’s attorney, Dan Armstrong, to stay termination proceedings against Craig. Armstrong filed the motion on May 30, one day before Craig’s 40-plus years of employment at the university was scheduled to come to an end.
OSU started termination proceedings against the tenured professor in October after a faculty committee found that he had bullied two students who worked in his toxicology lab, sexually harassed one of them and sexually harassed a faculty member.
The case has been in and out of court ever since as Craig has fought to save his job and salvage his reputation.
Benton County Circuit Judge Matthew Donohue initially ordered the university to halt the termination process in December, after Craig petitioned for a rarely used proceeding called a writ of review.
But in early May the judge reversed himself, saying Craig had not yet exhausted all his appeal options with the university. He dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled later.
Craig did just that after the OSU Board of Trustees denied his appeal, and Donohue once again issued an order to stay the termination while he reviewed the record of Craig’s dismissal.
OSU’s attorney in the case, Cody Elliott of Miller Nash in Portland, filed an objection to the stay, arguing that the termination process was essentially complete and that the university should be allowed to cut its last remaining ties to the professor.
“The fact of the matter is, multiple levels of the university have determined that petitioner violated the university’s policy and have revoked his tenure as of May 31st,” he told Donohue in court on Tuesday morning. “There are no further proceedings to stay.”
Armstrong took issue with that position, saying it makes a mockery of Craig’s right to appeal his termination under the writ of review.
“If he waits until the final decision and the agency says there are no more proceedings to stay, then the statute has no meaning,” Armstrong said.
The judge sided with Armstrong, saying Oregon law was on his side. As an employee of a state agency, he said, Craig has the right to a legal review of his termination.
“In this case I do find a stay is appropriate,” Donohue said from the bench. “It looks like, from what I’m seeing, the court has the authority to grant a stay.”
Craig has been barred from campus since last fall but has continued to work remotely. The judge’s order requires OSU to keep paying his salary and benefits until the legal review is concluded.
A July 3 hearing to consider motions in the case was canceled. In its place, Donohue scheduled a two-hour hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 27 to hear oral arguments.
Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @bennetthallgt.