Update: Medill dean speaks to students

Phillip Swarts

In a student forum Wednesday, Medill Dean John Lavine denied that he fabricated quotes in an alumni magazine column, accusing critics of his curriculum changes of drawing out the journalism school controversy.

The forum, the first time Lavine addressed a student audience since questions were raised a month ago about his use of anonymous quotes, drew a full audience to the McCormick Tribune Center forum.

“I want to start with the obvious question: Did I lie with the quote I used in the letter to the alums about a student in the class a year ago?” Lavine said. “The answer is: I sure didn’t.”

In a Feb. 11 column for The Daily, columnist David Spett raised questions about an anonymous quote, said to be from a Medill junior, that Lavine used in a letter opening the Spring 2007 alumni magazine.

“I came to Medill because I want to inform people and make things better,” the first part of the quote in dispute read. “Journalism is the best way for me to do that, but I sure felt good about this class.”

Since that column, the controversy gathered national attention. A review by Provost Daniel Linzer absolved the dean, but other groups, including the Chicago Tribune in an editorial last weekend, continued to raise questions.

Lavine suggested that the issue has been kept alive by a small number of faculty who are using it as ammunition against Medill 2020, Lavine’s plan to restructure the school’s curriculum to include new media and some marketing techniques.

“Some people say, ‘You know, if we can just topple the dean then all of this will stop. I can’t be against progress, so I can be against the dean,’ ” Lavine said.

“I promise you that whatever happens from now on… if people try to attack me and through me attack the progress we’re making, it won’t work. We are going to move forward.”

Lavine defended Medill 2020 as well as his integrity, saying the new curriculum began after two evaluations found the school was falling behind.

“Faculty governance had failed Medill,” Lavine said.

Faculty governance, or faculty oversight on curriculum changes, has been suspended at Medill until summer 2009.

A student currently on her journalism residency, senior Alex Apatoff, sent a question to the dean electronically.

“If you’re a professor and a student turns in a paper with no verifiable sources, but assures you that the quotes are similar to the ones they heard, how would you respond?” asked Apatoff, a former DAILY staffer who was one of the five Medill juniors in the marketing class.

“I would be as critical of that work as I am, as you are, of what I did,” Lavine answered. “I blew it. I’m quite clear about that. It shouldn’t have happened… suppose if I was getting a grade, I would have gotten a failing grade.”

Students were divided about the issue, although most in attendance seemed to still have reservations about trusting the dean.

Sol Lieberman, 27, was in marketing before he came to graduate school at Medill. He said he is glad the issue has created so much discussion, but that people also need to move on.

“All that energy here is what makes the school great,” Lieberman said. “That’s why we want to be here… Medill is only going to be what you want it to be.”

Medill senior and former DAILY staffer Megan Brown had a different opinion.

“I am feeling really frustrated right now,” she said. “In the past hour, I was pretty much sitting there listening to the dean talk around questions and never really get to the point, never really answer what people really wanted to know… I think that that shows that he’s a very good smooth-talking ad man but I don’t really think that that is a quality that we need in a journalism dean.”

Lavine asked students to judge his record as a whole.

“These are some of the biggest changes in the history of the school,” he said. “We are really in this together. This is the most exciting time in journalism’s history. Judge us by that. Just judge us by that.”

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