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Medill Dean's Quote Unquote Problem

By Margaret Lyons in News on Feb 20, 2008 6:18PM

2008_2_20.fiskhall.jpgI really bugged people yesterday when I said I didn't care that much about the dean of Medill possibly making up anonymous sources for a letter in an alumni newsletter, and the conversation that followed has been interesting and persuasive. The story so far:

Medill dean John Lavine wrote a letter in the school's spring alumni magazine hyping the school's advertising classes. That letter included an anonymous quote from a student praising the class, saying "I came to Medill because I want to inform people and make things better. Journalism is the best way for me to do that, but I sure felt good about this class. It is one of the best I've taken.'' But a columnist for Northwestern's student newspaper contacted all 29 people who took that course--and they all say that's not their quote.

But last week, Lavine told the Tribune that the quotes in his columns "came from real people," though he couldn't recall whether they came from e-mail or conversations.

He defended his use of anonymous quotes by drawing a distinction between a news story and a letter to alumni in a magazine.

"Context is all-important. I wasn't doing a news story," Lavine said.

Not everyone sees it that way, though, including faculty members: 16 of them signed a letter saying the matter has "become a crisis for the school." The letter says, "The principles of truthfulness and transparency in reporting are at the core of Medill's professional and academic mission." The letter doesn't call for Lavine to resign, but it does say that they "deserve a more complete accounting than the dean has thus provided."

Let the outrage continue...[S-T, Trib, more S-T, faculty statement via Daily Northwestern.]

Fisk Hall photo via Northwestern