In another adventure in the saga of the Dean Lavine quote scandal, the dean held an open forum discussion with students Wednesday in the McCormick Tribune Center.
Read our liveblog of the heated discussion:
The forum opened with students associated with Journalists Speak, the blog that has been tracing coverage of the controversy, introducing themselves and possible themes for discussion.
5:36 p.m.: Discussion of the relationship between journalism and advertising is introduced as topic one for discussion. This will be followed by “anonymous sources,” “trust in media” (since apparently Congress is the only institution that people trust less than journalists – ouch), and “journalism ethics in the digital world.” Plus student brainstorming, and an offer for making money if we want to hang out in Evanston and research over spring break.
5:39 p.m.: Dean Lavine takes the stage! To awkward, stilted applause. He thinks it’s “terrific” that everyone came tonight, and I think he just tried to make a joke about how he made some notes, but I’m not totally sure. He launches into his speech, refusing to take questions until he’s said his piece.
5:41 p.m.: Lavine says he “sure didn’t” lie about the quote, and the student was real. “There are some people who would like you to think I did lie,” he says, before beginning a walk-through of the situation. He attended a class winter quarter last year with his reporter’s notebook, talked with students before and after the class and asked “fairly pushy questions” during presentations. IMC303, the class in question, isn’t a new addition to the Medill curriculum, and Lavine requested e-mails from students to learn more about how they felt about the class. When alumni magazine letter-writing time came around, he went back to the notes and e-mails. “I cannot tell you 12 months later whether it was the emails or the notes I took, and I don’t have them,” Lavine says, but the quote was representative of the student opinions. Main idea: “The quote was real.”
5:45 p.m.: Twelve months later, our mail servers can’t be brought back. Switch to Gmail so your emails are recoverable. “You’re either going to believe me or you’re not going to believe me, and I don’t have anything more to add,” he says.
Now Lavine has questions for us: Why in 12 months did no one raise any questions about the letter? Or about the three previous deans who ran letters with unnamed quoted students? If someone came up to you and asked you what you wrote in your winter quarter CTECs last year, or before, during, and after your final class period a year ago, how good would your memory be?
Pre-Lavinehood, the year before he become the dean, the accrediting council and Northwestern program review came to look at Medill in the same month, and they apparently were not happy. They found “a fine, regular, 20th century journalism school” but not one ready for the 21st century, according to Lavine. But don’t worry, we aren’t alone: It happens to lots of schools. This made the president, provost, board of trustees, etc. quite displeased.
“Faculty governance had failed Medill,” Lavine says. “There was no way to make the changes that Medill needed to have made with the system that was in place that had gotten us there.” And thus Lavine was appointed dean, which he says he did not look for or anticipate. We can’t walk away from the fact that journalism is “at a crossroads,” we need to “move rapidly and get it done.”
5:54 p.m.: Are some people making an issue of the alumni letter for another purpose? The changes at Medill are “bumpy, but huge,” and some faculty don’t like them. “We have no choice,” Lavine says, and we have to learn writing and new multimedia tools. “The good old days will never come back.” Some faculty say, according to Lavine, “if we can just topple the dean, then all of this will stop.” And there is a decision to be made.
“We can either engage these changes, have differences, but work through them and move forward, or not,” Lavine says. “I promise you that whatever happens from now on…if people try to attack me, and through me attack the progress we’re making, it won’t work. We are going to move forward. We have made huge progress.”
Also, The Houston Chronicle wants to learn what Medill students are learning, they told Lavine after he visited and showed a presentation of students’ work, and we should just stop being so judgmental.
“If you want to judge me, judge me and judge Medill by what we accomplish this year, and what we will accomplish next year, and what we will accomplish thereafter,” Lavine says.
5:58p.m.: Open forum Q&A begins.
Question 1: Advises Lavine to switch to Gmail, and says people are “pissed off” because Lavine was quoted as saying, “I’m not about to defend my veracity.” Student sounds angry that Lavine is on a “high horse” and hasn’t apologized, and says his response delay made the situation spin grow bigger than it should have. (Full disclosure: student works for NBN.)
Lavine doesn’t really answer her at all, but says he’s usually criticized for being too candid.
Question 2: Emphasis of Medill 2020 on knowing the audience – what’s the difference between journalism and marketing and where does Lavine see the line drawn?
“If anyone in this school panders to the audience ever, you’re doing just the opposite of what matters,” says Lavine. Also “quality media is being drowned in garbage.” Emphasis here is on the difference between marketing and pandering; there’s marketing that makes you pay attention, and there’s marketing with spin, which is the bad kind. “In a world with so much choice, we simply must understand the audience. And I cannot apologize for that, and I hope you don’t.”
Question 3: The student questions Lavine’s assertion that the forces that are “going after” him are against progress. Student raises the point that since both Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn and NBN do new media, neither would be resisting progress and change at Medill. So why does Lavine think that those “forces” are going after him?
“People like Eric Zorn have contaminated the history of this story,” says Lavine, going on to say that it’s not fair to call a student in the midst of this controversy and ask them about the quote because it puts them in a very precarious position. “It has nothing to do with what media you’re with,” he says, it’s just that some people don’t like the direction that Medill is going. But the Houston Chronicle loves us, and application numbers are up. Lavine doesn’t know Eric Zorn at all, just reads his blog.
Question 4: Asks for update on the name change. She heard the meetings were “closed.”
Lavine “hasn’t heard much.” All faculty at Medill can go to all committee meetings, and the committee doesn’t want to share before they have things ready. Other than that, nothing seems to be public knowledge. “When they have something to say and a plan to say it” is when we’ll know, though Lavine suspects we won’t have update in spring quarter.
Question 5: Sorry that Lavine feels attacked, but thinks the faculty members represent us, especially the ones on the list. She says they represent some of the “best faculty members at Medill” and Lavine should listen to them, because they had to speak for the students. Feels like there’s a discrepancy between the standards Lavine holds himself and the standards students are held to.
“We will ensure that won’t happen going forward,” Lavine says, and he should have seen the difference in the standard, but it will be dealt with. Lavine says everyone uses anonymous sources, but he shouldn’t have and “it won’t happen again…but it’s a big deal.” Of the faculty that signed the letter, some of them are “the people [he] respects the most,” and this was an honest disagreement. The reason this forum didn’t happen until now is because Lavine agreed not to talk as requested by the provost.
Question 6: If a student turned in work without any clearly verifiable sources but claimed she heard them and you were the professor, how would the dean respond?
“I would be as critical of that work as I am, and you are, of what I did. I blew it, I’m quite clear about that.”
Question 7: How do we get Medill back on track as a cohesive school?
“That’s up to each of us,” Lavine says. We can look backwards or we can look forwards. Also Medill wants our ideas, and tomorrow afternoon the president and provost are meeting with the faculty, presumably these issues will be discussed. “We can’t go back, so let’s make the most out of it.”
Question 8, from an IMC grad student: The common threads between journalism and marketing are truth and accuracy. Is the context of a marketing piece (such as the letter in the alumni magazine) different from a piece on the front page of a daily newspaper?
Lavine thought of the letter as a marketing piece, not a news story. “But that’s not good enough. I’m the dean of a journalism school,” Lavine says. “It is not okay to not set a standard for everything Medill does that meets journalism’s highest standards.”
Question 9: Thanks for meeting, “better late than never,” wants a job with the Houston Chronicle, ha ha, “troubled” by attacks on David Spett. Displeased by Professor Hayden’s letter, Professor Weldon’s criticism, doesn’t think that when a student “goes out on a limb, does what we are supposed to do” it’s fair for him to be criticized. Doesn’t see how people’s dislike of Medill is relevant – motives of critics are irrelevant, what’s important is Lavine’s actions.
“We’ve always learned from criticism,” Lavine says. “It’s a process, not a set of answers.” But he disagrees with student’s approach. “I didn’t lie,” Lavine says, “And I think people that keep picking at this…have another agenda. …Let’s not connect the dots to all the problems of the media, because that’s not okay.”
Question 10: No one doubts the sentiment expressed in the quote Lavine used, but students are confused – why didn’t Lavine just use the student’s name?
“Hindsight is a wonderful thing,” Lavine says. He would have used the name if he had one, but he doesn’t always get names when he takes notes at a class presentation and can’t say for sure whether it was a junior or whether he had the name. Is it important to always have names in a story? When do we use unnamed people, not quotes? We’ll have to address this spring quarter. “I’ll ask people their name and I’ll use it,” Lavine says. “That’s only a tiny part of what this is about.”
Also, he’s not going to comment on the professors’ criticism of David Spett.
Question 11: Wants to speak “for the students who are not outraged.” Thanks Lavine for being gracious and wants to let him know “not everyone is as angry or pissed off as it seems.”
Lavine says thank you, followed by awkward laughter from the audience. Lavine says Medill is expanding, and in the past two years we’ve seen “some of the biggest changes in the history of this school. They’re not me. They’re every faculty member in this room, and they’re every one of you.”
We’re all in this together. Cue High School Musical. “This is one of the most exciting times in journalism history. Judge us by that.” Not our synchronized dance moves?
Question 12: Says Lavine sounds like he’s defending himself, and not everyone is against the changes, the topic is “the quote thing” and the fact that Lavine is defensive makes people more likely to “do the attack thing.” Also thinks Lavine sounds defensive when he speaks and should tone that down and be proud of what he’s doing.
Lavine says “okay.”
Question 13: Student reads from the NU Principles of Academic Integrity and is reading the section on fabrication. Literally word-for-word. And now the standards for faculty and how they are held to all the same standards as students. Audience gapes.
“I think that if someone lies we deal with those policies. I didn’t lie,” Lavine says. “Don’t go there. We can have this conversation, but let’s have it on a reasonable ground. There is a reason that I brought up that this thing is being kept going. … For some people, they’re going to be against me, because I’m a reasonable target, but to say to me that we’re now going to have a standard for notes and process in the alumni magazine that never existed before…you cannot hold somebody accountable for something after years and years of that not being the standard a year after the fact. I made a mistake…I was wrong and I’ll apologize, and I’ll learn from it.”
“This isn’t an academic paper” Lavine says, it was a letter on the cover of the alumni magazine. “We’re all wrong and we should’ve done it differently, but that’s as far as you can go.”
Question 14: Says faculty aren’t afraid of progress, they’re afraid of journalism being diluted by marketing, and Lavine is talking to them but not listening.
Lavine says most faculty are great, but some disagree and want to get rid of him because they think if he’s gone the changes he’s making will be gone. “For most of this faculty, they have no bigger fan than me.” Also journalism should call out marketers when necessary, and marketers try to sell things, and that’s “totally different than journalism.”
He says that Medill understands journalism, and “this dean understands journalism and its role,” but we shouldn’t shun marketing, because “under the flag of saying ‘it’s marketing,’ we’ll turn away the part of marketing that helps us learn.” Understanding marketing is the same as understanding economics and psychology, and we should celebrate audience understanding.
Question 15: From a grad student who left a job in marketing to come be a journalism graduate student, in what may or may not have been a poor life choice. He thinks there are plenty of people who love Medill. In the real world you can carry anger, but eventually you have to let it go, and we have so much energy that we should use it to find catharsis and then get our cohesion back because Medill’s only going to be what we want it to be. Inspirational, really.
Lavine wisely doesn’t say anything, as it’s almost 6:30 and college students get cranky when deprived their promised free food. On April 14, Laura Washington and Jack Fuller will be here talking about ethics, and we should work over spring break. Now for the “come for the free pizza” half of the evening.
In sum: Dean Lavine thinks we need to move on, stop calling him a liar, put this all behind us and stop fearing progress. Students still don’t seem to have closure, still making angry-looking faces. Medill, much to student chagrin, didn’t order Giordano’s and gave us Domino’s instead.