The J-School Dean, The Fishy Quote & The Romenesko Memo

0220lavine.jpgMeet John Lavine (pictured), dean of Northwestern University’s journalism school. He’s in hot water for allegedly fabricating quotes from students for the alumni magazine. We are writing this in complete seriousness. A j-school dean is being investigated for falsifying quotes for a university PR publication.

If you want to see the articles for yourself (which, we must warn you, are standard alumni magazine material), they may be found here in PDF format.

On February 11, Northwestern journalism student David Spett published an article in The Daily Northwestern that opened the dean to questioning:

Nearly every guide to journalism ethics says anonymous quotes should be avoided. So when I saw Medill Dean John Lavine had used three of them in two columns for Medill magazine, I was surprised.

One quote, in last spring’s issue, is attributed to a Medill junior […] The quote reads: “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, and I learned many things in it that apply as much to truth-telling in journalism as to this campaign to save teenage drivers.”

I see no reason for the quote to be anonymous. Many newspapers print their rationale for granting anonymity, but there was no such explanation here.

The phrasing also struck me as odd, and an instructor at Medill, who insisted upon remaining anonymous for fear of retaliation, told me that Lavine often uses the phrase “sure felt good” colloquially. I searched my e-mail and found one message the dean sent to Medill students, dated Oct. 23, 2007, that contained the phrase “we sure want you to know.”

Still, these suspicions hardly amount to evidence of the quote’s inauthenticity. So I contacted all 29 students in the class, reading the quote and asking whether they said it. (Only five were Medill juniors.)

All the students denied saying the quote, even when I promised not to print their names.

Now the story is being covered in the national media. Spett was just interviewed by NPR. Professors at the school are calling Lavine’s quotes “a crisis” and “embarassment.” Members of the school’s faculty have even e-mailed a group statement to Romenesko.

However, Northwestern University coincidentally renewed Lavine’s contract a few weeks before the allegations broke. It’s funny how those things work, isn’t it?

(Image via Chicago Reader)