I’ve never been a big advocate for Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. While the school prides itself as a premiere educational institution in the field, my real life experience with Medill grads has been they tend to rely more on the “Medill badge” … instead of their talents, real or perceived … to get them through. (In full disclosure, though, I should say I have worked with some absolutely standout journalists from Medill…unfortunately, the caliber of graduate is not as consistent as I’ve found from smaller, more scrappy j-schools. And,I have friends who are on the Medill faculty as well who I trust and admire).

Which is why I’m having a good laugh over the latest send-up at the university and its dean, John Lavine. The student newspaper claims Lavine, in a letter written for an alumni publication, fabricated anonymous quotes. The newspaper’s “investigative” work was basically was to ask 29 students who were enrolled in the class if they had said this to Lavine. All said they didn’t.

As a result, Lavine has committed what students and staff are calling short of treason. Lavine has apologized for not asking permission from the student for the quote, but has denied fabricating it. The whole issue seems to have paralyzed the school … and in particular Lavine’s foes, who would like nothing better than to see him leave and return the school to the pre-Lavine ivory tower.

I do not know Lavine, but I do give him credit for taking steps to bring the curmudgeonly program into the 21st Century. There has been a lot of resistance to his curriculum changes that focuses on recognizing what customers want to read in place of telling them what they should read. And it may not be the right way for Medill to turn, but at least it’s turning, and trying to develop itself into a school that will make future grads more valuable in a changing industry.

So, when the man behind change is hung out to dry over a letter with a bit of hyperbole in it, I can only shake my head and think the industry is doomed to philosophical suicide.


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