Medill faculty craft response to controversy

Nathalie Tadena

Some members of the Medill School of Journalism faculty are working on a statement criticizing the use of anonymous quotes in Dean John Lavine’s column in the school’s alumni magazine, Medill.

The Daily obtained a copy of the draft statement that was circulated in a Monday class.

Several Medill professors acknowledged the existence of the letter, but said the draft is very different from the one expected to be released this afternoon.

Associate Professor Craig LaMay said in an interview on the issue that students, parents, alumni and other professors deserve to know how Medill faculty will respond to the incident.

“We have a duty of fidelity to a number of audiences who are upset about this,” he said.

LaMay said some of his former students are now contacting him inquiring about Medill’s response to the situation.

The strongly-worded early version quotes a Chicago Sun-Times Feb. 15 editorial, saying, “With his and the school’s integrity on the line, the easiest thing for Lavine to do now is produce his notes or have the IT department retrieve that deleted e-mail to allay concerns over whether the unattributed quote is real.”

In a Feb. 11 column, Daily columnist David Spett questioned Lavine’s use of an anonymous source in a column in last spring’s issue of Medill magazine. Lavine quoted an anonymous student from last winter’s Advertising: Building Brand Image class saying, “I came to Medill because I want to inform people and make things better. Journalism is the best way for me to do that, but I sure felt good about this class. It is one of the best I’ve taken, and I learned many things in it that apply as much to truth-telling in journalism as to this campaign to save teenage drivers.”

Spett’s column raised questions about the rationale for Lavine’s anonymous sources and called the situation “suspicious.”

Lavine explained in a memo to Medill faculty on Feb. 14. “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,” he wrote.

According to the draft faculty statement, the link featured students’ comments about a different Medill class but did not feature the verbatim quote Lavine used in his column. The video is no longer available.

Since last Monday, Spett’s column has received nationwide coverage, including National Public Radio and US News and World Report.

“Medill is a fine institution … I find this whole incident just really distasteful,” LaMay said. “It’s not good for the school or any of its constituents.”

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