Because the future of journalism is so unclear, the curriculum changes at the Medill School of Journalism can’t easily be criticized on the grounds that they’re not preparing students to function in it. Who knows? So the case against rampaging dean John Lavine, who took over Medill almost two years ago after running Northwestern’s Media Management Center, is anchored by the charge that he’s left his faculty out of the process. Last June the university’s General Faculty Committee unanimously passed a resolution that found Northwestern’s “suspension of faculty governance at [Medill] to be unacceptable and in violation of the University’s Statutes.”

On November 12 Lavine and his students engaged in a Q & A in Fisk Hall. Lavine shrugged off the resolution: “The issues they had are not really issues with us, they are issues with the administration.” He conceded that the faculty weren’t all enthusiastic about the changes, but journalism has changed and “can we really stay where we were?” Here’s a partial transcript of the proceedings.  

The occasion might have been much more dramatic. Two recent grads, Andrew Bossone and Camille Gerwin, tried to organize a confrontation where someone would rise and read aloud a petition signed by some 80 alumni. It began, “As a member of the alumni community of the Medill School of Journalism, I endorse changes to the school that will improve the quality of the education for students, enhance the reputation of the program and add value to the diploma that I hold. I believe, however, that any changes should be taken with careful consideration and deliberation. These changes MUST include votes from all faculty members . . . “

The petition concludes, “It is [the faculty’s] right to decide on the future of the school. It is also their right to express dissent without fear of losing their jobs. I therefore endorse this petition to immediately restore faculty governance to the Medill School of Journalism.”

If all had gone as planned, that person would also have read a two-page letter (pdf) by Gerwin and Bossone to the board of trustees that expressed their “concern and discontent.” “To begin with,” they wrote, “we are appalled at the manner in which these changes are being implemented. Because faculty governance has been suspended, Dean Lavine has been making changes unilaterally or with staff members that support him indiscriminately. Those who have expressed dissent have been demoted or forced out . . . “

If Bossone and Gerwin had been on hand, they might have stood and delivered. But Gerwin is now working in Boston and Bossone in Cairo, Egypt, and from those great distances they could locate no one willing to lead the charge. So the moment passed. The petition and the letter were simply e-mailed and snail-mailed to the trustees and to provost Daniel Linzer. By Friday afternoon there’d been no response.