Prof. David Protess, founder of the Medill Innocence Project, will retire from Northwestern on Aug. 31, University officials announced June 13.
Under Protess’ direction, students in his signature Investigative Journalism class uncovered evidence that helped free 11 wrongly convicted men from prison, including five from death row.
Protess took a leave of absence Spring Quarter after being barred from teaching the class. His teaching post and direction of the Medill Innocence Project were assumed by third-year Medill Prof. Alec Klein, who also taught the class Fall Quarter.
That decision followed the University’s nearly five-month review of Protess’s compliance with prosecutors who accused the 29-year professor and some of his students of ethical misconduct in investigating the murder conviction of Anthony McKinney.
Tension between Protess and the University came to a head after a meeting in early April where University Provost Dan Linzer and Medill Dean John Lavine gave a 45-minute presentation to Medill faculty members – not including Protess – accusing the award-winning professor of lying and doctoring emails to avoid turning over subpoenaed documents to Cook County officials.
“In sum, Protess knowingly misrepresented the facts and his actions to the University, its attorneys and the dean of Medill on many documented occasions,” University spokesman Al Cubbage wrote in a statement distributed after the meeting.
One of the charges against Protess was the accusation he had altered the text of an email to his program assistant Rebekah Wanger about his policy on keeping and sharing memos related to the McKinney case.
Protess admitted he altered the email but claimed the change was intended to clarify the content rather than mislead officials. He also denied accusations that he had intentionally withheld documents, saying any missing documents were due to memory lapses; the McKinney emails were primarily sent between 2003 and 2006, but the subpoena was not issued until 2008.
The Associated Press reported Protess wrote in an email last week that he retired to become the president of his new initiative, the autonomous Chicago Innocence Project, which he started this spring.