Sex allegation behind Chemeketa suspension
Lanning, who also served as the college’s chief academic officer, was placed on leave in early February, Chemeketa officials have confirmed. He has not been charged with any crime, but is the target of a tort claim filed with the college.
According to the Bulletin, whose interest stems from Lanning’s abortive bid for the presidency of Central Oregon Community College in Bend, the alleged victim of a sexual encounter in a Portland International Airport hotel filed a tort claim with Chemeketa on Feb. 24. In the notice, the newspaper said, she threatened to sue the college “for acts of sexual abuse, or sexual contact” conducted by Lanning while she was “physically helpless.”
Under Oregon law, anyone intending to sue a government agency is required to first file a tort claim with that agency, putting it on notice and thus giving it time to explore the potential for a settlement short of litigation. Litigation follows in some cases, but not all.
The News-Register has requested copies of all tort claims filed with the college in the last 12 months. It is awaiting a response from Mark Comstock, who serves as the college’s legal counsel.
In an earlier filing made on April 19, the News-Register requested copies of all disciplinary records involving Lanning. Comstock denied the request, citing a provision of Oregon law allowing their withholding “unless the public interest requires disclosure in the particular instance.”
In his opinion, Comstock said in a written response, no such public interest had been demonstrated. The News-Register is planning to appeal the denial decision to the Marion County District Attorney’s Office, which has jurisdiction over the Salem-based college.
When contacted in response to the report appearing in The Bulletin, Chemeketa Dean of Public Information Greg Harris said, “We have no further comment.”
The Bend newspaper has been following the Lanning situation because he was the top choice for president of Central Oregon Community College.
The school terminated his candidacy upon learning he had been placed on administrative leave at Chemeketa. It also aborted its search.
The school decided to name Dean Shirley Metcalf interim president for the 2014-15 school year. It intends to take another attempt next winter at recruiting a permanent replacement.
According to the Bulletin, neither Chemeketa nor Lanning informed Central Oregon that he had been placed on administrative leave, and when the school learned of it, Chemeketa refused to reveal the causative element.
The action was taken by Chemeketa President Cheryl Roberts the day before Lanning was scheduled to visit COCC for an interview.
The Bulletin quoted Harris as saying the college “did not inform COCC of the investigation based on advice from legal counsel.” He said, “Our intent was to take care of our employee who had an allegation against him, as we don’t know where the truth is.”
The Bulletin said the tort claim it obtained in response to its records request alleges the incident occurred Feb. 6 or 7 “in the claimant’s room at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel.” The hotel was hosting the 2014 Annual Student Success & Retention Conference at the time, amd Lanning was scheduled to deliver a talk on the challenges faced by impoverished students.
While Lanning remains on leave, Jim Eustrom, executive dean for student affairs, is acting as Chemeketa’s chief academic officer. Like Lanning, he is doubling as president of its Yamhill Valley Campus in McMinnville.
The local campus, the only one of several regional Chemeketa branches enjoying full campus status, also has a new manager of day-to-day activities. Holly Nelson was promoted from assistant dean to dean March 1, following the retirement of John Plett.
Plett continues to work on special projects under a contract that runs through June. He will be honored with a retirement gathering next month, according to Harris.