Sixteen Medill present and former faculty members have signed and released a letter calling on Dean John Lavine to show his hand. They want a “more complete accounting than the dean has thus far provided” of the unattributed quotes Lavine used in a letter to alumni published in the Medill alumni magazine last year–quotes that it’s been suggested the dean concocted. “This matter has become a crisis for the school. The principles of truthfulness and transparency in reporting are at the core of Medill’s professional and academic mission,” says the faculty statement. It was delivered to Lavine with a cover letter signed by professors Craig LaMay, Donna Leff, and David Protess, all of whom teach ethics classes and who told Lavine “it would be unconscionable to maintain faculty silence on such a widely covered public issue.”
Medill students and alumni have weighed in by the dozens online and overwhelmingly they gig the dean both for using anonymous quotes and for asking the school to take his word for it that they were legit. (He says they came from e-mail he’s since deleted.) Lavine sent his faculty a memo that insisted, “They are real quotes, a fact that was demonstrated by my including in my letter to the alumni a link to a student video that showed students making the same kind of points. There was no shortage of material from students for these quotes.”
This video showed sophomores being interviewed about their experiences working in storefront newsrooms. They were apparently enthusiastic in roughly the same sort of language used by Lavine’s anonymous junior, who said about a marketing class, “I sure felt good about this class. It is one of the best I’ve taken.” But while one excited student might sound like another, video about one class is hardly proof that the anonymous quotes about another are bona fide. Tuesday’s letter from the faculty bluntly points that out.
If Lavine feels he doesn’t have a friend at Medill, the fact is he had precious few before this scandal erupted. The journalism faculty feel disrespected since he became dean two years ago and ripped up the curriculum. Now they’ve got a chance to publicly disrespect him back.
UPDATE: By early Wednesday afternoon, a statement posted online by the “Concerned Students in the Medill School of Journalism” had been signed by 175 persons, according to one of the four authors, Medill senior Emmet Sullivan. The students endorsed the faculty statement and added that they felt students “have been ignored” by Lavine in the matter. The statement concluded: “We believe the dean, the faculty, the alumni, the students and ALL members of the Medill community should come together, come to terms with the issue and use this unfortunate situation as a teachable moment in our journalism education. In our eyes, this has yet to happen.” For more, go here.
UPDATE: On Thursday Dean Lavine issued an apology for his “poor judgment” in quoting a student’s letter “without naming the student. I should have asked permission to use the student’s name with their comment about the IMC 303 class.” Is that what happened? David Spett, the Medill senior who broke this story in the Daily Northwestern, says he interviewed all 29 students in that class and they all denied having said the above quote. The school might want to poll those 29 students again, ask them if they said or wrote anything to Lavine about the class, and if they did ask them what. And while the school’s at it, it could find out how many, if any, of those students thought it was one of the best classes they’d taken. Perhaps the dean’s being dodgy because it was actually a quote he heard secondhand.