Amid allegations of rape from a former student, two professors at Arkansas State University resigned this month, just as the institution was reportedly planning to fire them.
The 25-year-old female Arkansas State University student accused Gregory Russell, an associate professor, and his wife, Ellen Lemley, an assistant professor, of raping her at their home on the night of April 19. Both professors were in the department of criminology, sociology and geography.
The student, whose identity Inside Higher Ed will protect consistent with its policy of not identifying victims of alleged sex crimes, reported the rape to the university before the couple resigned on June 1 but not to Jonesboro law-enforcement officials until June 6, when she applied for "orders of protection" against the couple. In statements submitted to Craighead County Circuit Court, the student said she “took steps to let ASU know that I had been raped by the couple and after investigation, they were to be terminated, but instead resigned on June 1, 2007.”
The student accused the couple of drugging her at a restaurant and then raping her at their home. She said she feared that they would “retaliate against me” for losing their jobs and because Russell had “continued to harass me through phone calls, messages and in person .”
Arkansas State's communications director, Tom Moore, confirmed that Russell and Lemley had resigned from the university on June 1. Citing confidentiality of personnel files, he declined to say whether the university had been considering firing the couple at the time they quit or to provide any further information about the investigation.
Glen Jones, Arkansas State’s interim vice chancellor for academic affairs and research, released a statement on June 7 in which he said the university has “a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment and will not tolerate any employee or student violating this policy.”
Jones added that when there is an allegation of sexual harassment, the university “promptly investigate[s] and, when an allegation is determined to be valid, an appropriate remedy is identified and implemented.”
Neither Russell nor Lemley, nor their lawyer, could be reached for comment; calls to the professors' offices and to their home were not returned. But Russell told the Jonesboro Sun that “everything that happened was consensual.” Russell also told a local television station, KAIT-8, that the couple's lawyer was preparing a libel/slander lawsuit against the student and possibly others.
The Student’s Perspective
The student’s lawyer, Paul N. Ford, was unavailable for comment. In her statement to local authorities, the student said that the professors had invited her and her friends to join them at their table at Brickhouse Grill in downtown Jonesboro, less than two miles from the Arkansas State campus. The student said she had taken classes with both professors.
“It is believed,” the student said in her statement, “that Dr. Russell drugged my drinks with Dr. Lemley’s knowledge.”
The student said that she “blacked out” and didn’t “remember anything from sitting at the table to waking up naked and covered in blood” from her waist to her thighs in the professors' home.
Russell, the student said in her statement, told her that she had been “so messed up” the previous night that he needed to carry her out of the restaurant. Then, the student alleges, Lemley joined the student in the bed where she had woken up and lay down there. Russell later drove the student back to her apartment, the statement said.
She alleged that days later, Russell and Lemley began leaving her voice mail messages expressing their feelings for the student and urging her to "be with" Russell.
Craighead County Judge Barbara Halsey denied the request for orders of protection against Russell and Lemley, ruling that the case did not fall under Arkansas’ Domestic Abuse Act.
Copies of the voice mail recordings were given to police, Detective Ernest Ward said, adding that he has received 325 pages of e-mail messages, instant message logs and handwritten statements from Arkansas State students and others who know the couple.
Ward said he has yet to find evidence supporting the student’s claim in those documents. “Nothing that I’ve read so far [is pertinent],” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t turn the page and find something that can be used as evidence.” Because the alleged rape happened nearly two months ago, Ward said his investigation relies on what he learns from the student and the professors, as well as the contents of the documents and voice mail recordings he has received.
He is to interview Russell and Lemley on Thursday, he said, “once their lawyer gets back to town.”
Russell and Lemley have followed each other across the country since the early 1990s, co-writing articles and book chapters, and teaching classes together.
In 1994, Lemley received a bachelor’s degree from California State University at Chico, where Russell was an assistant professor and later an associate professor from 1990 until 1996, according to their respective curricula vitae posted on the Arkansas State Web site.
They then moved to Washington State University, where Lemley earned a master’s degree in criminal justice in 1998 and a doctorate in political science in 2004. Russell, meanwhile, was an associate professor of political science and criminal justice there from 1996 until 2002.
From Washington State, Russell and Lemley moved to Arkansas State, where Russell was an associate professor of criminology and director of the university’s programs in criminology and forensic science. Lemley began there as an instructor in 2002 but became an assistant professor upon completion of her doctorate.