Editorial: Medill, Protess owe NU community full transparency

The Daily Northwestern

Eight students who applied and were accepted to Medill’s Investigative Journalism class registered last quarter expecting David Protess as a professor. In a matter of weeks, the 29-year professor and founder of the Medill Innocence Project was removed from teaching the class and replaced with third-year Medill Prof. Alec Klein, a former investigative business journalist at The Washington Post. Protess announced Tuesday that he will take a leave of absence from Northwestern University this quarter.

The Daily Northwestern does not question nor underestimate Klein’s qualifications to teach this course or serve as director of the Medill Innocence Project. The Daily does, however, find the lack of transparency on the part of Medill regarding the decision to switch professors and on the part of Protess with respect to his long-term plans with the University to be disconcerting and at odds with fundamental journalistic integrity.

In addressing Protess’s recent removal from his position as director of the Medill Innocence Project and professor of the Investigative Journalism class, Medill should demonstrate the “honesty and fairness” which it explicitly requires of all of its students in the Medill Integrity Code. Considering the ongoing investigation and the unconfirmed nature of allegations against Protess and the Medill Innocence Project, The Daily cannot make a substantive and informed claim about the University’s decision to remove Protess from teaching the course. Now that students are directly affected by the relationship between the two, the Northwestern community unequivocally deserves clarity from both Protess and the University about the circumstances surrounding their individual decisions.

Medill’s main stake should be in the laudable work of the Medill Innocence Project, which has freed 12 wrongly convicted men , including five from death row, since Protess introduced it 12 years ago. The Daily encourages Medill to offer continued support to the project by staffing it with the most qualified faculty available.

While it may be conceptually difficult to divorce Protess from the initiative he founded, the high caliber of the journalism experience and teaching that the Innocence Project offers as well as its contributions to social justice should continue to be a top priority of both Medill and the University.

Likewise, The Daily asks Protess to hold himself to equal standards of transparency. Students are invested in both the Medill Innocence Project and Protess’s role as a professor and mentor. In statements made to The Daily, Protess described his future at Northwestern and with the autonomous Chicago Innocence Project he intends to establish this quarter as “indefinite.” Though Protess said he plans for his Chicago Innocence Project to incorporate the investigative work of students from Chicago-area schools, including Northwestern, he owes current and prospective students a more straightforward explanation of his intent.

Just as the administration owes the community a reason for its actions, Protess is responsible to current and future students alike.