On the record, Medill students and alumni deny saying disputed quote

A team investigation on a university controversy, published on North by Northwestern in March 2008. 

All of the Medill students and alumni who took a Winter 2007 marketing class have publicly denied saying a disputed quote that has led to controversy at the Medill School of Journalism and to a Northwestern University investigation.

In a spring 2007 letter for the school’s alumni magazine, Medill Dean John Lavine attributed the quote, which praised the Medill-taught marketing course, to a Medill junior.

The veracity of the quote, first challenged by a Feb. 11 column in The Daily Northwestern, led to an investigation by the provost’s office — which cleared the dean — and criticism from some Medill faculty members and students, as well as questions from other faculty members about the column.

To read the names and denials of all of the Medill students and alumni, click here.

Ten of the 17 non-Medill students and alumni who took the course also confirmed that they didn’t say the quote. Six did not reply to attempts to reach them. One was unavailable to give a complete interview when first contacted, and did not reply to further attempts to finish the interview.

Still, many of the students, Medill and non-Medill, also acknowledged that they enjoyed the class. Carly Schwartz, who graduated from Medill in 2007, called it the “best elective I took in my undergraduate career, hands down.”

In the letter, Lavine wrote that an unnamed “Medill junior” told him this about the course:

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.

Daily Northwestern columnist David Spett wrote on Feb. 11 that all of the class’s 29 students denied saying the quote. While he stopped short of calling the quote fabricated, he said he was “suspicious.”

Spett also wrote that when he interviewed Lavine about the quote, the dean couldn’t provide details about who said it.

In a Feb. 20 e-mail to the Medill community about the controversy, Lavine said, “I do not make up quotes.” In the same e-mail, he also said that he had not saved the notes and e-mails regarding what students thought about the class. He did not return a request for comment on this article.

For this story, the Medill students and alumni in the class were asked whether they said the quote, and if not, why they couldn’t have. Raedell Cannie, who graduated from Medill in 2007, said she no longer wanted to do journalism by the time she took the class. Medill senior Alex Apatoff said she “came to journalism to talk about shoes and women’s magazines,” not for “truth telling.”

Some in the class said that parts of the quote reflected how they felt. “I did not say that quote, but I mostly agree with the statement,” said Erica Schlaikjer, a 2007 Medill graduate, in an e-mail. But she also said that she didn’t learn much about “truth telling” in journalism.

Some students in the class also acknowledged that their memories of the course were not perfect. Though several Medill students and instructor Tom Hayden remembered Lavine being at the class’s final presentation, Medill senior Eimear Lynch said she wasn’t sure. Alex Kohlmann, a Weinberg senior, said he didn’t remember whether Lavine was present.

The controversy about the quote comes at a time when many studentsfaculty and alumni have criticized Lavine for bringing marketing and journalism too closely together at the school. Lavine’s plan for a new curriculum, called Medill 2020, emphasizes audience understanding and technology. He has been praised by other faculty, and NU officials such as President Henry Bienen, for preparing the school and its students for a digital-media world.

Hayden, who taught the Winter 2007 marketing class, called “Advertising: Building Brand Image,” emphasized that it did not purport to cover anything but marketing: “We don’t teach journalism in it.” The class was not created as part of the new curriculum — Hayden has been teaching it since 1998.

After Spett’s column was published, editorials in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times linked the quote dispute to bigger battles at Medill and criticized Lavine’s use of unnamed sources. Such sources are discouraged by journalists because they leave readers unable to judge an anonymous person’s motives, biases or reliability.

A Feb. 19 statement signed initially by 16 faculty members said the discussion had become “a question of the dean’s veracity” and called it a “crisis for the school.” A student petition, calling for further explanation from the dean, began circulating the following day.

Some faculty members expressed reservations about Spett’s reporting. In an e-mailed quote on Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn’s blog, Roger Boye, an associate professor emeritus, praised Spett but asked whether he had the proper list of students in the class.

Though Spett did not name any of the students in his column, Medill Professor David Protess and Zorn identified the five then-juniors and re-interviewed them. The students — Alex Apatoff, Vanessa Hand, Alexis Jeffries, Eimear Lynch and Katie Welnhofer — said that they didn’t say the quote.

Feb. 29 review by Northwestern’s provost, Daniel Linzer, found “no evidence” that Lavine fabricated the quote. The provost is responsible for academic affairs at the university.

The three-person committee appointed by Linzer concluded that “although a record of the student statements that were quoted cannot be found, sufficient material does exist about the relevant storefront reporting experience and marketing course to demonstrate that sentiments similar to the quotes had been expressed by students.”

Protess called the review “demonstrably inaccurate,” citing his own and Spett’s reporting, but also said that “we probably will never know” whether the quotes were fabricated. Spett said he was “taken aback” by the committee’s assertion that there was no evidence of fabrication.

Students from the class interviewed after the review was released said they were not contacted by anyone affiliated with the provost’s office about the controversy.

On Monday, Hayden sent an e-mail to the Medill community about the controversy, which he called a “fabricated media drama.” He also wrote that three students in his class, whom he did not name, refused to talk to Spett for the original column.

During a Tuesday night interview, Spett said that he did in fact talk to all 29 students.

“None refused to talk to me,” he said.

Disclosure: All of the reporters for this story are Medill students.

The Medill students and alumni:

Each person was asked to confirm that they were in the class. They were then read the quote, and asked whether they said it or not. If they denied saying it, they were then asked to explain why they couldn’t have said it. Unless noted, all interviews were conducted by phone.

Raedell Cannie, Medill ‘07, denied saying the quote. Before taking the class, she said, she decided she didn’t really want to do journalism anymore. She now works at a Phoenix-area school district.

Patrick Dorsey, Medill ‘07, denied saying the quote. He declined further public comment.

Rachael Harlan, Medill ‘07, in an e-mail denied saying the quote. She said, “I didn’t come to Medill to inform people and make things better. I went there because I love the journalism profession and the idea that it’s your job to learn something new every single day. In terms of the class I thought it was interesting, but I didn’t catch any relevance to journalism.”

Erica Schlaikjer, Medill ‘07, in an e-mail denied saying the quote. She said, “I did not say that quote, but I mostly agree with the statement.” She learned about market research, she said, but not so much truth telling in journalism. She also said it wasn’t necessarily the best class she’s ever taken.

Carly Schwartz, Medill ‘07, denied saying the quote. Of the dean, she said, “I never talked to him.” Still, she enjoyed the class. She said, “It was the best elective I took in my undergraduate career, hands down.”

Lisbeth Walker, Medill ‘07, denied saying the quote. She said she never e-mailed or personally talked to the dean. While she liked the class and thought it was valuable, she said, “I don’t think that class really applies to journalism at all.”

Paige Walus, Medill ‘07, denied saying the quote. She said that she enjoyed the class, even the marketing aspect, but said it had nothing to do with journalism.

Alex Apatoff, a Medill senior, denied saying the quote. She said that she would never say “truth telling” or “make things better” because she “came to journalism to talk about shoes and women’s magazines.” She said she commended the class and marketing in an interview for an Integrated Marketing Communications video.

Vanessa Hand, a Medill senior, denied saying the quote. She said, “I don’t feel that strongly about the class, I wouldn’t have used these words, but I don’t think they are untrue in any way.” She said she found the class interesting. “I’m a journalism major, so it was a little out of my field,” she said.

Alexis Jeffries, a Medill senior, said she’s “a hundred-percent positive” that she did not say the quote. She said she did not think highly enough of the class to say that it was “one of the best I’ve taken.”

Eimear Lynch, a Medill senior, denied saying the quote. She said she had never met Lavine until this year, and hadn’t ever sent him an e-mail. She said she enjoyed the class, and if she had been asked, she would have spoken positively about it.

Katie Welnhofer, a Medill senior, denied saying the quote. Of the dean, she said, she has “never actually talked to the man.” She also took the class primarily for a business-institutions minor she was pursuing at the time.

According to The Daily Northwestern’s Web site, seven of the 12 students and alumni have written for The Daily Northwestern or PLAY, The Daily’s former weekly inset. Before the reporting for this story began, Medill senior Alex Apatoff submitted an article for consideration to North by Northwestern.

The non-Medill students and alumni

The Office of the Registrar, the Northwestern directory, commencement lists, convocation books, alumni information and interviews with the students and alumni all show no indication that these 17 students who took the class are enrolled in, were enrolled in, or graduated from Medill.

Tonjua Jones, a Weinberg 2007 graduate, denied saying the quote.

Aquee Easley, a McCormick 2007 graduate, denied saying the quote.

Alexander Kohlmann, a Weinberg senior, denied saying the quote.

Carrera Harris, a Communication senior, denied saying the quote.

Richard Swette, a Communication senior, denied saying the quote.

Michelle Tsao, a Communication senior, denied saying the quote.

Michael Yeung, a Weinberg senior, in an e-mail denied saying the quote.

Anna-Louise Burdett, a Music senior, in an e-mail denied saying the quote.

Mary Wehner, a McCormick 2007 graduate, denied saying the quote.

A Weinberg senior also denied saying the quote, but requested anonymity because of concerns about his or her future career.

One person was unavailable to give a complete interview when first contacted, and did not reply to further attempts to finish the interview.

Six students and alumni did not reply to requests for comment.

A note on the class

The class was the Winter 2007 section of Integrated Marketing Communications 303 taught by Tom Hayden. In his magazine column, Lavine described the course as led by Hayden and involving an advertising campaign about teen driving. In a Feb. 20 letter about the controversy, Lavine explicitly refers to the course as “IMC 303.”

Hayden said his Winter 2007 section has been the only IMC 303 class focused on a project about teen driving for Allstate. He confirmed that the class had 29 students.

The final project, obtained from Eimear Lynch, was a report on teen drivers for Allstate that also listed the class’s 29 students on the back cover. Students interviewed for this story confirmed that they were in the class.

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