By Peg McNichol
Jack Lessenberry steps down as head of Wayne State Unversity’s journalism program, The Detroit News reports. 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 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.”
Lessenberry taught at the campus since 1993. WSU records show he earned $62,246 last year.
The abrupt move apparently surprises WSU, where his photo and five-paragraph profile remain in the online faculty directory.
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 announced it had hired an outside attorney, specializing in sexual harassment, 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.
The fallout from the story was swift and went 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 has emailed Lessenberry for comment, as well a WSU officials, to verify the status of the independent investigation by Tara Mahoney, a partner at the Honigman law firm downtown — whether it is complete, will be completed or will be dropped.
This publication also will upodate this article with reactions from sources from the original story to the latest development.