Former PSU Chemistry Professor Sentenced For Posting Child Porn On Blog
But don’t count on PSU to let you know

photo by Dylan Jefferies

“We don’t have a good community if we’re not all transparent,” said then-Acting PSU President Stephen Percy on May 17, 2019, during the Student Media Press Conference. 

On July 8, 2019, former PSU chemistry professor Niles Lehman was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for possessing and distributing child pornography through his Tumblr blog. Lehman, 57, resigned from his faculty position on May 31 after teaching at PSU for 17 years. 

In a video of the sentencing hearing posted by The Oregonian/OregonLive, Lehman’s lawyer, Michael Romano, called it “an unusual case,” since there was no evidence that Lehman molested or abused children. “What we had is an unfortunate downward spiral,” Romano said, “starting 2016 to early 2018 where [Lehman] took an interest in some of these materials along with other taboo subjects.” 

According to Multnomah County Deputy District Attorney, BJ Park, Tumblr first alerted the FBI in August 2018 that a user was uploading child porn files, videos and photos to an account. That account was traced to Lehman. Although authorities said Lehman had hundreds of files involving children aged 3 to 12 on his iPhone and other devices, he was charged with viewing and sharing 35 illicit images of children between October 2017 to September 2018.

Ultimately, Lehman plead no contest to two counts of encouraging child sexual abuse in the first-degree, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. In a plea bargain, the remaining 33 counts were dismissed. 

PSU gave a statement to media outlets, stating “It is shocking and upsetting to learn that a PSU employee has engaged in this type of illegal and improper conduct.” 

Neither the university or law enforcement have plans to notify students of Lehman’s conviction. 

When PSU awarded Lehman the Senior Faculty Research Excellence Award in 2018, the Office of Academic Affairs posted a congratulatory biography on its website, noting undergraduate and graduate students in his lab regarded him highly “for his mentorship and training.”

Yet when it comes to Lehman’s departure and conviction, PSU never planned to notify the campus community, referring instead to the public statement given to media outlets. 

On May 17, during the quarterly student media press conference, The Pacific Sentinel asked if the administration planned to reach out to the PSU community more directly. 

Interim President Stephen Percy, who had just assumed the role that week, noted that he “[didn’t] know much more” about the case beyond what he had read in media outlets. “[I] hope I’m not contradicting anybody here,” President Percy answered, “but there should be a way to reach out about something like that,” before asking reporters what they thought would be the best way to do so. “There are human resource policies and procedures we have to follow that are based on law and based on practice,” Percy continued. “That doesn’t mean we can’t say that that kind of pornography is horrible, we don’t want it here, and it’s simply unacceptable. And letting that message come out is something we’ll work on.”

Chris Broderick, Associate Vice President for University Communications, replied that the Provost (Susan Jeffords), sent an email to faculty and staff after Lehman was indicted on April 9. “I mean, I think it was circulated by the faculty to some of the students in chemistry,” Broderick said. “That’s the way it’s typically done…when [faculty are] on paid administrative leave.” 

When The Pacific Sentinel requested a copy of that email, Broderick clarified that it was sent to faculty of College of Liberal Arts on April 22. “Dear Colleagues,” it begins, “We know many of you have questions and concerns after seeing news reports…Because those of us in senior leadership were not aware of this indictment until it was made public earlier this month, we understand, along with you, that it is challenging to process this information.” The email concludes by providing a link to University resources available to faculty and staff before referring students to the Dean of Student Life to “find out about resources available to you.” It is unclear which, if any, students received the notice. 

But at least some students had already been addressed by then, when HR held a discreet meeting with Chemistry Department faculty and graduate students on April 15. HR representatives discouraged attendees from speaking with the press about the matter. One student asked, “How are you going to change the communication chain so that we find out about this in a different manner?” The question went unanswered. At that time, several graduate students from Lehman’s research lab had already transferred doctorate advisors. 

Due to confidentiality laws, it is unclear when Lehman was placed on administrative leave and if he was granted an exception to PSU’s policy, which states an employee qualifies for paid leave for court appearances unless the employee is a plaintiff or defendant. 

Following Lehman’s sentencing hearing, The Pacific Sentinel reached out to PSU Communications and Interim President Percy with more questions. Broderick responded that Lehman’s lawyer told him Lehman’s posts and activity didn’t take place on PSU campus, “but you would have to check with [his lawyer] and the DA’s office on that to confirm.” 

According to the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office, the child pornography investigation did not find any evidence that Lehman’s criminal activity took place on campus or affected any students. However, the investigation did not contact any current or former students about the case either. 

Interim President Percy did not respond to further questions following the sentencing hearing. 

If anyone has further information about Lehman and this case they are encouraged to email news.pacificsentinel@gmail.com

 

Oregon Laws Public records disclosure exemptions:

Information of a personal nature
https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/192.355 2a

Information of a personnel nature
https://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/352.226 13

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