UNC lecturer resigns after sexually explicit texts

1986 alumnus Monty Cook resigned his UNC position Tuesday.

Monty Cook, the journalism school’s inaugural executive producer of the Reese Felts Digital News Project, resigned Tuesday amid allegations of “inappropriate behavior” with a reesenews.org student employee.

Cook, 46, was placed on a two-week leave after he reported sending sexually explicit text messages to the student, wrote Jean Folkerts, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in a letter to Cook on Monday.

“I also told him on Monday that I intended to recommend that his position be terminated,” Folkerts said in an interview.

Letter from Dean Folkerts to Cook

Letter from Holden Thorp regarding Cook

Cook resignation letter

“The student was put in a position she should not have been placed in,” she added.

Cook resigned Tuesday before Folkerts’ recommendation was sent to Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Bruce Carney.

“Due to developments in my personal life, I will be unable to serve the School of Journalism and Mass Communication any longer,” he wrote in his resignation letter. Repeated efforts to reach Cook at his home Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Folkerts said she learned of the relationship Friday and speculated that it lasted “a couple weeks.” A Friday Department of Public Safety incident report shows a “suspicious condition” at Carroll Hall that day involving Cook, a male Duke University student and the female UNC student. A Duke professor is listed as having reported the incident.

The Duke student and professor both declined to comment Wednesday. The woman did not respond to an interview request.

Folkerts met with the woman Sunday afternoon and was shown explicit electronic messages indicating Cook initiated the relationship, according to her Monday letter. The University prohibits “amorous relationships” between students and faculty or staff who evaluate or supervise them.

A former senior vice president and editor of The Baltimore Sun, Cook joined the school’s faculty April 1 with a five-year contract and annual salary of $135,000. The 1986 UNC graduate’s resignation came just more than two weeks after the launch of digital newsroom’s website, reesenews.org. The project is funded through a $4.1 million gift, the largest in the school’s 101-year history, from the estate of alumnus Reese Felts.

Cook will not receive a severance package, Folkerts said.

In May, school faculty were sent an unsigned e-mail from a man who said his wife and Cook had an ongoing relationship of several years. The man asked UNC faculty to discourage Cook from contacting his wife and included an explicit Gmail chat conversation between the pair.

The e-mail concerned Folkerts enough to contact UNC general counsel but did not jeopardize Cook’s status at the University.

“It was between consenting adults, it did not violate any University policies and it was not criminal activity,” she said. “We do not police behavior between consenting adults.”

Folkerts said Cook’s resignation will not hinder the project.

“We have an excellent student staff and excellent people now in charge who will carry out this project, I’m sure, in ways that will make us really proud,” Folkerts said.

Visual communications professor Don Wittekind was tapped to lead the project temporarily. Sara Peach, a former Roy H. Park fellow, will advise as well.

Wittekind will not be compensated additionally for his help. Peach will receive an hourly wage that has yet to be decided.

Reese staff met with Folkerts and Wittekind Wednesday night.

“There is no question it hurts,” he said. “As horrible as this is, we’re all journalism students here, and you’re going to learn to live with it.”

Senior writers Sara Gregory and Tarini Parti contributed reporting.

Contact the University Editor at udesk@unc.edu.

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