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Medill Dean Apologizes, Sort Of

Here’s a quick update to the story Kevin just posted regarding the controversy at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism (again, full disclosure: it’s my alma mater).  Dean Lavine, in full damage-control mode, sent out the following email to current students and faculty earlier this week:

Dear Medill Colleagues and Students,
In the middle of the controversy over two letters to the alumni that I wrote last year in Medill magazine, I want to make what for me is a very important point.
I have been in journalism for more than 40 years as a reporter, editor, publisher and educator. I do not make up quotes.
But I did exercise poor judgment, and I apologize for that. I used a quote from a student in a letter I wrote in the Spring 2007 issue of Medill without naming the student. I should have asked permission to use the student’s name with their comment about the IMC 303 class.
Although our alumni magazine has run unattributed direct and indirect quotes before, as your dean I must ensure that the magazine, as one of the many public faces of the School, should operate with the highest possible standards.
Medill faculty teach our students that journalism should be transparent. It is a mistake when I don’t set the best example I can. Just as our faculty set high classroom standards for students learning to be journalists, as dean I should exhibit those standards.
Today I met with the Dean’s Council, a group of 14 faculty and staff members who are deeply involved in teaching and in administering the school. We agreed to review the standards for all work published under the Medill banner. I will set up a faculty committee this week to begin that process
I had hoped to write this letter earlier and quickly settle this controversy by providing the emails and notes I used as the basis for the letter to alumni.  I and others searched my email from a year ago. Then we tried to retrieve email that had been deleted at the time when the article was written. After extensive efforts on the part of Microsoft, they said that after five days, the system my office uses permanently deletes messages that I have deleted, and they cannot be recovered.
My second mistake was that I did not save the notes I took in the IMC class. That was careless and something I knew never to do as a reporter.
Now, the matter has been referred to NU Provost Dan Linzer’s office and until that review is complete, I have been asked to hold further comment. I am anxious to more fully discuss this matter with you when the Provost’s work is done.


I seriously doubt this email will do anything to quash the issue.  Also, not that it matters very much, but I didn’t find this letter to be particularly well-written–which is a bit odd considering its source.  The general sentiment I’ve picked up in discussions with fellow Medill alums and current students is “Medill deserves better.”  Lavine will need a lot more than this email to stem the tide.


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