Thursday, February 28, 2008

John Lavine probably ought to resign

I am probably not the only recent Medill grad who is finding the John Lavine phony quotes controversy hilarious.

In fact, I know I'm not. We have been emailing each other news clips and commentary on the controversy. This is from an email my friend Nick Taborek wrote last week to about 15 of us:
Guys, please cool it on the dean bashing. I mean, Lavine already defended the integrity of his work: Other students said somewhat similar things in reference to other, somewhat similar classes. Then they posted videos containing these comments on youtube.

Therefore Lavine's quotes are real and he should not have to produce his notes. It makes perfect sense.
Hard to argue!

Obviously there's no way to know really whether the various anonymous quotes Lavine used in his column are fabricated or not, at least not yet. But boy oh boy do they ever read like bullshit! For those who haven't been following this controversy, here are some words the dean claimed a student voluntarily said to him:
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.
There will always be students who desire to kiss asses, but I know very few who would do so in phrases quite that stilted and PR-friendly. So the fact that all subsequent re-reporting has been consistent with the original allegations is not a shock to me.

And based on what I saw of John Lavine while I was getting my MSJ last year, I've gotta say, it doesn't feel out of character, either.

I was a member of the first graduate class to enter Medill under Lavine. I graduated in four quarters, and was fortunate enough to get a job as a reporter and blogger for a daily newspaper, where I am doing just fine, thank you. And I actually agreed with a non-trivial number of Lavine's ideas about where the school should go. It is a good idea to train all young journalists to make podcasts, take photos, do some simple video editing. It's good to be responsive to an audience, a little marketing needn't be antithetical to Real Journalism and so on. There was absolutely a cohort of old-guard j-profs at Medill who tried to argue for the Old Ways, not always very persuasively. I was never a bitter ideological enemy of Lavine's.

But as a dean, by all indications John Lavine was paranoid, petty, and totally dismissive of opposing viewpoints. He retaliated or threatened retaliation against faculty members who disagreed with him. He scheduled "listening sessions" with students -- I attended three -- where he not only didn't listen, he dug in deeper to his pre-existing views and talking points.

A couple of weeks before I graduated, I sat down with a veteran staff member, who closed the door of her office so that we could gossip properly about what was going on at the school. She was not quite joking when she said it felt like the Bush administration had taken over Medill -- same obsession with loyalty, same attitude toward dissent, same myopia. (Not to mention, lately, the same approval rating! Thank you, thank you, tip your waitresses.)

Would this controversy have erupted if John Lavine were a beloved dean who had shown real respect for Medill faculty and students? Of course not. But then, a beloved dean probably wouldn't have had to make up quotes in the first place.

I know we don't really know he's guilty. The student who said "Jeepers, Dean Lavine, my class was the bestest!" or whatever may yet come forward and vindicate the man. But let's just say that doesn't happen. And let's just say Lavine is asked to resign. If that happens, I will not be the only recent Medill grad happy to see him go.


Chris said...

I don't like the sound of this Nick Taborek guy, either.

Katie said...

oh, come on rob. he was just "pushing back" at the listening sessions.

i sure felt good about those listening sessions. they were some of the best i've ever sat through.