Cumberland University


Dr. Russ Cheatham: Shaping Success in Criminal Justice


Few professors have left so indelible an impression on an academic program as Dr. Russ Cheatham. Having directed Cumberland’s Criminal Justice and Public Administration (CRJ) program since its inception in 1995 until 2012, Cheatham helped develop the course of study from a fledgling B.A. initiative into a thriving program that now produces graduates that often outperform their peers from other universities.

Having also served as various times as the division chairperson and interim dean for two schools and as the director of a graduate program, Cheatham has only recently stepped back into the sole role of professor.

What Cheatham hasn’t stepped back, however, is his passion for the program that he still recruits, teaches, and mentors students for every day.

“We have a great program,” Cheatham said. “We offer a number of courses that are not offered elsewhere, and our combined Criminal Justice and Public Administration degree greatly differentiates us from similar programs. We’re constantly working to make the program unique and cutting-edge.”

It is a program that began in its modern form in 1995, when Cheatham first joined Cumberland. Prior to arriving at the university, Cheatham earned his doctorate in public administration from Tennessee State University in 1993, adding it to an earlier master’s degree in criminal justice from Middle Tennessee State University in 1987. While completing his studies, Cheatham served as a probation officer and later as a criminal investigator with a district attorney’s office.

Ironically, however, it might have been Cheatham’s first job as a salesman that aided him the most as he helped establish the new CRJ program in 1995.

“People think of me as an ex-cop, but I was an ex-salesman first,” Cheatham said. “Having been in sales, I knew that you either sell price or quality. I stressed quality, trying to develop an excellent program with a great deal of uniqueness and innovative courses.”

Over the next 17 years, Cheatham directed the CRJ program as it emerged into a unique course of study offering classes with an academic and practical foundation. Cheatham would pioneer or advocate for a number of those courses himself, including a fraud examination class unique to Cumberland and courses in subjects such as forensic anthropology and criminal profiling. The program would also become distinguished by its added emphasis on public administration, an area critical to students wishing to assume management positions.

As the number of successful Cumberland CRJ graduates in positions in agencies across Sumner County and Middle Tennessee proves, employers have taken notice.