By Peg McNichol
Two women who last month accused Metro Detroit journalist Jack Lessenberry of inappropriate behavior react to his Jack Lessenberry’s resignation from the Wayne State’s faculty, disclosed Friday evening.
Diana Aitchison, a former Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter who says Lessenberry came unannounced to her apartment with a bottle of wine, tells Deadline:
“This resignation, rather than a firing, is a strike against all women. How many other predators are lurking in WSU halls with a green light from authorities? The message they just sent: Prey on the young until you get caught, then resign. What a travesty.”
Anita Houk, a former copy editor and union leader at the Tennessee paper, reacts via text message:
“One less outlet for his outrageous behavior toward women. I would be shocked if WSU had not contacted him with early findings of its investigation.”
Reactions also come from a pair of current journalism students at the Detroit campus.
“I’m so thankful that so many intelligent, strong students spoke out against his actions,” Delainie Wheeler tells The South End at WSU. “This situation, though horrible, has undoubtedly brought together so many journalists in the Detroit community and made it a more welcoming market to work in.”
Miriam Marini, news editor at the campus paper, also speaks with Lucas Bell, a junior in print journalism:
“It hurts to hear that somebody that so many students in our program idolized was responsible for hurting some of my female classmates. . . . It is important moving forward that our program leads the way on making sure that this does not happen at [WSU] in the future.”
Original article, Friday night:
Jack Lessenberry steps down as head of Wayne State Unversity’s journalism program, the university says. The resignation comes amid a university inquiry into allegedly inappropriate remarks and unwanted attention involving female students over many years, first reported by Deadline Detroit five weeks ago.
“I concluded that I could no longer be effective in the current environment, and decided the best thing to do was to retire so that my colleagues, who I deeply respect, could get on with plans for the fall semester,” he emails The Detroit News.
“I had intended to retire from teaching next May, when I would have turned 67 and my current contract expired, but felt it was best to do so now. Additionally, I also will have a new issues-oriented radio show on 910 AM beginning July 9, and that would have prevented me from teaching my normal winter courses.”
♦ Update: University spokesman Matt Lockwood emails a one-sentence reply Saturday evening to questions from Deadline:
“Jack Lessenberry voluntarily resigned on June 22 in the midst of WSU’s independent, outside investigation, which remains ongoing.”
The inquiry is expected to be done in early July, Lockwood tells The South End student newspaper.
Lessenberry taught at the campus since 1993. WSU records show he earned $62,246 last year.
His photo and five-paragraph profile remain in the online faculty directory Sunday morning.
The senior lecturer took a leave of absence a day after an investigative report in Deadline Detroit on May 17 that documents accounts of misusing his power and influence when dealing with female colleagues around 1990 at the Memphis Commercial Appeal and years later with students at WSU.
A day after publication of the Deadline Detroit story, the university hired an attorney specializing in sexual harassment, Tara Mahoney of the Hoinigman firm downtown, to look into the matter. Following publication of the story, additional former WSU students contacted Deadline Detroit, alleging that Lessenberry made inappropriate remarks and gave them unwanted attention.
Fallout from last month’s story was swift and reaches beyond Wayne.
Metro Times suspended Lessenberry as a columnist and he subsequently quit. He also resigned from Michigan Radio on May 23.
He continues to write for The Toledo Blade, where he serves as the newspaper’s ombudsman. Blade executives indicated they were conducting an investigation as well, but that Lessenberry was not suspended.
The Traverse City Eagle suspended his column in that paper for the duration of the WSU inquiry.
Deadline Detroit emailed Lessenberry for comment Friday night.