Retired journalism faculty member Jack Lessenberry “violated Wayne State University’s non-discrimination and sexual harassment policies,” the university says after what it calls “a very thorough investigation.”
An undisclosed number of students were “mistreated by Mr. Lessenberry,” the two-month inquiry finds. It began days after Deadline Detroit contributors Evelyn Aschenbrenner and Peg McNichol, who earned WSU journalism degrees in 2004, disclosed accusations of inappropriate behavior by Lessenberry as a WSU senior lecturer and earlier as a newspaper editor in Memphis.
The longtime journalist, 66, retired from the university nearly four weeks ago and declined to speak with its investigator — though he originally welcomed the conduct review and wrote to his dean: “I am ready to assist this investigation in any way.” He joined the faculty in 1993 and rose to head the journalism program, including supervision of the communication department’s internship program.
Descriptions of unwelcome overtures and too-personal conversations over three decades from past Memphis Commercial Appeal colleagues and Wayne students effectively ended the instructor’s long, distinguished journalism career. Lessenberry, now a weekday morning talk radio host, stepped aside as a Metro Times columnist and Michigan Radio commentator after Deadline’s detailed article May 17 about actions and comments that made women uncomfortable.
Wayne hired Tara Mahoney, a harassment specialist and partner at the Honigman law firm downtown, to speak with Aschenbrenner and other complainants. Everyone interviewed in person or by phone received an email late Wednesday afternoon from Linda Galante, an associate general counsel at WSU who serves as interim Title IX coordinator. (Title IX, a 1972 federal civil rights law, assures equal opportuniuty and protection from discriminatrion in education.)
“Mr. Lessenberry was given the opportunity to participate and chose not to do so,” says the six-paraghraph message under the subject line “Conclusion of J. Lessenberry Investigation.” It adds:
Based upon Ms. Mahoney’s factual findings, she reached the conclusion that Mr. Lessenberry’s actions violated Wayne State University’s non-discrimination and sexual harassment policies. Wayne State accepts her findings.
While Wayne State views these findings as a sufficient basis for termination, Mr. Lessenberry resigned from WSU effective June 22, 2018, while the investigation was still underway.
We deeply regret that Wayne State students have been subjected to this type of inappropriate behavior, and we hope this brings some closure to those students who were mistreated by Mr. Lessenberry.
It’s not known yet whether Wayne will issue the attorney’s report, which Deadline has requested.
An email message to Lessenberry offers him an opportuniuty to comment. A day after Deadline’s investigative article, reported over seven months, Lessenberry wrote to Communication Dean Matthew Seeger: “I would like my name cleared. . . . I care about Wayne State’s reputation as well as my own.”
Galante offers free assistance to current students through the university’s Office of Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS) and provides its phone number: (313) 577-3398. Past students can request “a list of resources in the Detroit Metropolitan area,” she adds.