About three dozen investigative reporters and journalism educators from across the country have signed a statement calling for an investigation into Northwestern University’s handling of David Protess, which they say looks to them like a “retaliatory campaign” against Protess waged by the university and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. The statement can be read on Jim Romenesko’s website.
“This month, in a highly unusual proceeding,” says the statement, “the University presented its case against Professor Protess to a closed session of the journalism faculty. Professor Protess was barred from the meeting, denying him an opportunity to confront the accusations. Then the university issued a press release making public the serious allegations against him, quickly adding that it would not comment any further.
“Tarnished and isolated, Protess has been the subject of news reports and leaks that further damaged his reputation. In response, he has asked for an independent investigation into the allegations against him as well as the conduct of all those involved.”
Protess was stripped of his teaching duties by the Medill school of journalism, and he went on leave, during which time he’s been trying to reestablish his Innocence Project outside the university. Says the statement, “We call on our colleagues, especially those covering the news media, to join in investigating what is happening at Northwestern University. We also ask university officials to present themselves in a public session to explain their actions, and to answer questions on why they have endangered one of the premier investigative reporting projects in the country.”
There are many impressive names in the list of signatories. There is not, however, any name from Medill — which might suggest that the Medill faculty has its own view of Protess and his conduct that’s more jaundiced than the view from afar.
In some cases that’s true. However, the refusal of Dean John Lavine of Medill to invite Protess to appear before that “closed session” April 6, and the immediate appearance of a press release after it ended, caused a lot of Medill professors to feel abused and manipulated. One faculty member later told me, “I don’t know if you know this, but after John did his presentation the faculty voted in a two-part vote — both of which passed — to present David with the evidence against him, and to invite him to a subsequent faculty meeting so he could respond himself. There was a deep feeling on the part of the majority in the room that that there had been no fairness to the proceedings.”
Why hasn’t the faculty been more vocal?
Said the faculty member, “If you can take a totally tenured professor and annihilate him, what could they do to you with no tenure.”
Protess’s response to the statement: “I appreciate the support of so many distinguished investigative journalists and educators and share their call for an independent investigation. Hopefully, Northwestern officials will cooperate with the investigation that is sure to come.”