Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Campus Controversy: My Dean at Medill Must Explain or Apologize

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Campus Controversy: My Dean at Medill Must Explain or Apologize

Article excerpt

There has been no shortage of diatribes directed at John Lavine since he took the helm of one of the premier journalism schools in 2006 andtransformed its curriculum. As a Medill student who came to Northwestern the same school year Lavine was named dean, I have heard (and sometimes shared) many of these concerns, such as "Medill isn't teaching me to write" or "These aren't the classes I signed up for when I decided to come here." And: "I want my money back." But these complaints pale in comparison to the latest controversy. Senior David Spett, a columnist for the campus newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, published an investigative piece in which he suggested that three anonymous quotes used by Lavine in a magazine defending his new programs were fabricated.

Last spring, Lavine, in his regular column called Letter from the Dean published in Medill's alumni magazine, touted the success and support for his new curriculum, and quoted unnamed students. To Spett, the anonymity seemed unnecessary -- and the wording in one quote, from a student allegedly in a certain advertising class, praising Lavine's vision seemed unusual. So he started to investigate. Spett contacted all 29 students in the advertising class. None of them, even under the promise of anonymity, admitted to providing the quote. When the columnist confronted the dean in an interview, Lavine saidthe quote was authentic, and that it came an in email from a student, but he couldn't remember who. Lavine also explained that his column in the magazine was in the form of a "personal letter," which does not need as careful sourcing or adherence to journalistic standards as a traditional article. Comments on The Daily's Web site show lots of people are in a tizzy about this alleged breach of ethics, and the story has been picked up by Chicago newspapers and even National Public Radio. Spett has received a lot of attention and a lot of praise for his work uncovering the controversy. Lavine has defended himself. He insists the quotes are authentic; he just can't tell you who said them. While there is no way of proving the quotes are fabricated, that doesn't mean he's off the hook. This is about poor journalism - journalism that could get a reporter fired and Medill student an F or even expelled. …

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