This story has been updated
Washington state Rep. Matt Manweller has been placed on paid leave from his job as a professor at Central Washington University pending an investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct.
The university released no details of the allegations, but said in a statement that the investigation will be conducted by an outside investigator and “will be thorough, objective, and fair."
Previously Manweller has been accused of sexually harassing and even propositioning females students at the university—allegations he denies.
In a phone interview Monday morning, Manweller said he had just learned that he’s been put on leave.
“I showed up to my office about an hour ago to submit my grades and my computer was gone,” he said.
Manweller said he had also received an official letter from the university, although he declined to give details.
Later, in a text message, Manweller said that the university had received a handful of emails and phone calls from ex-students over the weekend after a flurry of news coverage of past allegations against him.
Renee Fyall, of Ellensburg, was one of the former students who contacted the university by email. She also posted about her experience on Facebook. Fyall took a class from Manweller in 2005. On two or three occasions, Fyall said, Manweller asked her to stop by his office. When she did go meet him, it was an uncomfortable experience, she said.
“After sitting there in his office for a little while, it became apparent that he didn’t have any interest in talking to me about the class” Fyall said. “He just wanted to talk to me about me or about whatever.”
One particular comment struck Fyall as odd.
“He told me that he liked my voice and that he’d never forget a voice like mine and I think that was a moment of, ‘OK, I probably shouldn’t be in this office anymore,’” she said.
After that experience, she avoided going to his office, Fyall said. She never complained to Manweller or to the university.
“And I wish I would have and it’s one of the reasons that I’m saying something now,” she said.
Last Friday, Fyall sent an email to the university’s provost saying she wanted to pass along her concerns about Manweller. It’s unclear whether her email precipitated any action by the university.
In an interview, Manweller said he remembers having Fyall as a student, and that she seems nice when he runs into her in town. He knows her dad from local Ellensburg politics, he said. But Manweller doesn’t remember inviting her to his office, commenting on her voice or any specifics about her time as a student, he said.
Manweller insisted his interactions with students in his 15 years at the university have never been improper. As a young professor, Manweller said he tried to relate to students and show them he wasn’t an “old fuddy duddy.”
Asked week if he thought that his past interactions with female students were too casual or friendly or flirtatious, Manweller said, “I might have been. It wasn’t my intent to ever cross any line, but clearly somebody’s feelings were hurt and I must bear some responsibility for that.”
In 2012 and 2013, Manweller was the subject of back-to-back investigations at Central Washington University into allegations that he sexually harassed and even propositioned students as far back as 2006. None of the findings were formally substantiated, but a dean did reprimand Manweller for using poor judgment with female students. Manweller challenged that finding. Ultimately he was promoted to full professor and the university paid his attorney fees.
Regarding this latest investigation, Manweller said he will defend himself as the process proceeds. He urged the public to await the results of the investigation before jumping to conclusions.
The last week has clearly taken a toll on Manweller. At one point while talking about being placed on leave, he appeared to break down sobbing.
“Right now, I’m just thinking about my two kids,” Manweller said during an emotional interview. “That’s really the only thing I’m focused on. I have a seven and an eight-year-old and I’m focused on them.”
Manweller is the sixth highest ranking Republican in the Washington House of Representatives. The actions of the university do not affect his standing in the Legislature. The Democratic House Majority Leader has called on him to resign. Manweller insists he won’t
He was investigated twice in 2012 and 2013 for allegations involving female students going back to 2006. Investigators found evidence to suggest Manweller had violated the university’s sexual harassment policy, but there were no formal findings against him. He was later promoted to full professor.
There was a new report Monday that a former legislative staff member complained earlier this year about Manweller's behavior at the Capitol. She told The Seattle Times that a meeting with him that was meant to discuss her career ended up in a restaurant and felt more like a date. The woman declined to give her name because of concerns about her ongoing work in state government.
On Sunday, the Northwest News Network, together with The News Tribune and The Olympian, published a story with Manweller’s former wife, OraLynn Reeve, who was his student in a sophomore year math class in Utah in 1998. Reeve says they kept in touch after he left the school and they began dating and got engaged when she was an 18-year-old senior. However, Reeve now says she believes the relationship was inappropriate and that Manweller took advantage of her youth and naivete.
Manweller said while the relationship was unusual, that they were in love and there was nothing illegal or immoral about it.
This story was reported in collaboration with Walker Orenstein of The News Tribune and The Olympian.