Manweller report finds 'pattern of unprofessional' behavior from lawmaker

Aug 22, 2018

Washington state Rep. Matt Manweller “engaged in a pattern of unprofessional and inappropriate behavior” with current and former female students at Central Washington University (CWU) over a 13-year period, according to an 85-page investigative report released by the university on Wednesday.

The July report written by Trish Murphy of Northwest Workplace Law in Seattle, said there is evidence to establish that Manweller’s conduct included offering better grades in exchange for sex, looking at the bodies of female students, physical touching, and asking inappropriate personal questions.

Manweller, who has denied wrongdoing, was fired earlier this month from his position as a tenured political science professor based on the findings of the months-long investigation. He is now suing the university and the investigator for more than $2 million, alleging wrongful termination.

Among the allegations made against Manweller in the investigation:

  • A former student said that one evening in 2009 she met with Manweller in his office to discuss family issues that were resulting in her falling behind in his class. The woman told the investigator that Manweller pulled his chair close to her, put his hand on her knee and said, “There’s always a way for you to get an A in this class,” which she took to mean an exchange of a sexual favor for a good grade. The student said after that encounter she withdrew from his class.

In an interview with the investigator, Manweller denied touching the student or suggesting a trade of sex for a good grade. Manweller said that he tells students who are struggling that “you can pass the class” to alleviate panic and that “it never occurred to him” that someone would take it as a quid pro quo. He added that he was “very sorry” that the student, whose family he knows, took it that way.

  • A former babysitter who was a student at CWU, but didn’t take a class from Manweller, said that he would comment on her appearance and tell her “how hot she is, and that she is a ’10.’” The woman also said that Manweller would “initiate hugs,” offer her a drink when he got home, joked that she could “stay over,” and once put his hand on the side of her knee while they were sitting on his couch.

In his interview with the investigator, Manweller denied making comments about the babysitter’s looks and disputed other allegations, including the couch incident.

  • A former CWU student said she attended a legislative reception in Olympia in January 2014 and felt very “hit upon” by Manweller who she said focused on her chest and left her feeling “gross” and “creeped out.”

Manweller said he did not recall the student, but that he remembered the event because the room was small.

  • A 2009 graduate of CWU said she went to Manweller’s office to discuss a senior research project she was working on with another professor. During that meeting the woman she Manweller commented “how unusual it was to have an attractive woman interested in” political science and asked about her dating life. At a later lunch with Manweller, the woman said he told her that “he wanted to run away with her,” that he could not stop thinking about her, and grabbed her forearm as she tried to leave in her car.

Manweller denied to the investigator that he told the woman she was attractive and didn’t recall asking her about her dating life. He also disputed the facts of the lunch, including the location and said they went together in his car not separately. He denied making comments about not being able to stop thinking about her.

Murphy interviewed 15 current and former female students, as well as other witnesses as part of her investigation. She also interviewed Manweller for approximately four hours.

In a lengthy response to the Central Washington investigation, which was submitted to CWU earlier this month and posted on Manweller's campaign website, Manweller's lawyer accused the university of a “relentless effort to concoct” facts against Manweller and called the investigation an “exercise in futility” that was “not fair, impartial, and objective.”

The lawyer accused CWU and Murphy of delving into Manweller’s private life and his role as a state lawmaker, instead of limiting the scope of the investigation to his conduct as a professor.

“CWU hired Murphy to do whatever it takes to find a basis to justify terminating Dr. Manweller,” the lawyer, Douglas Nicholson, wrote.

Nicholson's response also accused Central Washington of conducting a “Gestapo-like raid” on Manweller’s office in December of last year and seizing his computer.

Manweller was previously investigated by CWU in 2012 and 2013. This latest investigation was triggered after The Seattle Times reported last December on those previous allegations. Following that reporting, the university received additional complaints about Manweller’s conduct. At that time Manweller was placed on paid leave.

While he was on leave, the university’s provost recommended that Manweller continue in his tenured position and receive a raise based on “exemplary scholarship/creative activity.” It's not clear if Manweller received that raise. He was formally notified of his termination on August 14. 

A copy of Manweller’s termination letter shows that the university fired him based on failing to maintain acceptable standards of professional conduct and for his “insubordinate disregard” of instructions that while on leave he not have contact with current or former students.

Manweller is currently seeking his fourth term in the Washington Legislature.