Former Wayne State journalism department head Jack Lessenberry violated the university’s non-discrimination and sexual harassment policies while he was employed at WSU, an independent investigation found.
WSU has accepted the investigation’s findings and concluded Lessenberry’s actions were “sufficient basis for termination,” according to a letter sent by WSU Associate General Counsel Linda Galante.
However, Lessenberry resigned from WSU on June 22, while the investigation was ongoing.
“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,” Galante said.
Attorney Tara Mahoney managed the private investigation; she conducted 20 interviews, which primarily consisted of faculty members and former students who worked with Lessenberry. Lessenberry declined to engage in an interview with Mahoney, according to the investigative report.
Lessenberry frequently made comments regarding the physical attraction of female students, according to the report. He also engaged in physical contact with female students.
“Lessenberry had physical contact with at least five students ranging from putting his hand on a student’s shoulder to hugging students to engaging in a passionate relationship,” the report stated.
Some students changed how they dressed, the makeup they wore, and avoided being alone in the same room as Lessenberry in response to his actions and comments.
In one instance, Lessenberry repeatedly invited a female student, who graduated in 2017, to dinner, which she continually declined. The student eventually said “‘yes’ because she feared consequences if she said ‘no,’” according to the report. At that dinner, Lessenberry inched closer to the student and put his hand on her thigh.
Lessenberry attempted to kiss the same student on the lips in his office.
“The student was shocked and uncomfortable,” the report stated.
At one point, Lessenberry emailed the student saying “Some day I shall kiss you; the jail time will be worth it.”
The investigation also found that Lessenberry had a relationship with a student who graduated in 2015 “that included the exchange of loving, passionate cards, and a physical relationship that consisted in part of numerous passionate kissing sessions (including in Mr. Lessenberry’s office and car) over a several month time period.”
Following sexual misconduct allegations against Lessenberry published in May by Detroit-based news site Deadline Detroit, Lessenberry resigned from the Detroit Metro Times and Michigan Radio. He initially stayed at WSU until resigning in late June. He still holds the position of ombudsman at the Toledo Blade and has a radio show on WFDF (910 AM).
The WSU Department of Communication is expected to name Lessenberry’s replacement prior to the upcoming semester.
Omar Abdel-Baqui is managing editor of The South End. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.