Full text: Student petition to reinstate Protess as professor of Investigative Journalism

The Daily Northwestern

Dear Professor Bitoun,

We are writing to express our deepest disappointment at the news that Professor David Protess will not be teaching Jour 373 this spring.

As current and prospective students, we respectfully request that the school reconsider a decision to remove our professor from a position in which he has accomplished an incredible amount of good and taught so much.

In conversations we had with Prof Protess prior to your announcement today, he never once intimated that he would not be teaching spring quarter. He helped strategize reporting agendas for both of the current cases into the next term, indicating he had every intention of working with us as we saw them through. Because of this, we can only surmise that this decision, for him not to return next quarter, wasn’t his own. He has refused to participate in our efforts to have him reinstated as our instructor. We faithfully submit that the following petition represents the interests and requests of the students alone.

If removing Protess is part of an effort by the University to discipline him for defending the integrity of the Innocence Project to which he and decades of students have given so much, please know that you are not punishing ProfProtess half as much as you are his students, and the two men still sitting behind bars. Realize that the school is jeopardizing last quarter’s progress at the worst possible moment for these two cases. In the past month, one reporting team acquired an eyewitness’s recantation, only the second time in the course’s history that a recantation was made in a case’s first quarter of reporting. This groundbreaking work was guided by Protess and puts us within reach of obtaining justice for Stanley Wrice, currently serving a 100-year prison sentence.

For those of us who have spent a quarter with Prof Protess already, he and his class have had a profound impact on us and we took the class a second quarter because it meant getting to work with him again. For those of us who are new to the class, we applied expecting Protess as our professor and because it is one of the most coveted opportunities for undergraduates at Medill. Below are responses from new students:

“I was really disappointed when I heard about the professor change. I really looked forward to taking the course with him and would love it if there was something we could do to make that happen!”

“I was also really disappointed to see that David Protess would no longer be our instructor. That was one my main reasons for applying for the class.”

“Protess was the reason I signed up for the class (and decided not to apply during the Fall). Medill advertised this class under Protess’ name, which has a particularly powerful brand.”

Please take stock of the reasoning behind your decision in this case. In our minds, it was not made in consideration of the best interests of the students, past, present or future. Nor does it behoove the work of the Innocence Project, which has played a significant role in two major victories for justice in the past few weeks alone: the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hank Skinner case and the abolition of the Death Penalty in Illinois. Finally your decision could stand in the way of justice for two men whose hope for freedom is sustained by this project.

If the school does not see fit to rectify this error in judgment, we would consider it a proportional response to drop the course entirely and continue work on these cases through another avenue.

Please don’t punish your own students for something we have had no control over. Let’s make this about providing the best learning opportunity and educational experience that the Medill School of Journalism can offer. The only way you can do that is to reconsider your decision and let us have the professor we all signed up for and the professor we deserve.

David Protess.

We submit this petition to you, respectfully,