Medill Faculty Criticize Dean Over Anonymous Quotes

By RJI on February 20, 2008 0 Comments

by John C Abell

Sixteen Medill faculty have now openly criticized Medill Dean John Lavine over his use of anonymous quotes.

The 16, which include 10 tenured professors and former Dean Loren Ghiglione, say the university is reviewing the veracity of the quotes and assert that the incident has become a “crisis” for the prestigious journalism school, the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times report.

"This matter has become a crisis for the school," the statement said. "The principles of truthfulness and transparency in reporting are at the core of Medill's professional and academic mission."

Northwestern's office of the provost is reviewing Lavine's use of unnamed sources and "the veracity of the quotations," according to a statement by spokesman Al Cubbage, who declined to comment further.

At issue are two letters Lavine wrote last year for the alumni magazine. In them he used three anonymous quotes, attributed to students, which tended to praise initiatives that supported his strategic vision for the school. Many of Lavine’s initiatives have been vocally criticized by the student body.

The tone of the quotes, and the fact that they were anonymous, caught the attention of David Spett, a columnist on the student paper, The Daily Northwestern. Spett tracked down all 29 of the students who could have provided the quotes and all denied they had made them.

Spett himself wrote that while his investigation didn’t prove that the quotes were fabricated, “I find reason to be supicious.” The Chicago press picked up on the story shortly thereafter.

Lavine has defended the quotes as genuine, although he says he cannot recall whether they came in face-to-face encounters or in e-mail, and he has been unable to provide corroboration. Lavine has also defended the use of anonymous quotes in this context, saying that he “wasn’t covering the news” but only writing a personal letter.

The statement called Lavine’s explanation “at best inadequate.”

Full story here.