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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Northwestern's president and provost to Medill faculty: Enough.

Posted By on 03.13.08 at 07:52 PM

The president and provost of Northwestern University held a meeting Thursday afternoon with the dean and faculty of Medill. President Henry Bienen responded to the polite hand he got when he was introduced with the ominous “I’m glad you’re clapping now. Some of you may not be in a few minutes.”

Bienen and provost Daniel Linzer made it clear they stand behind Medill dean John Lavine, who Bienen said was appointed to bring the school “into the modern world” after a couple of academic audits three years ago prescribed major change. NU has committed millions of dollars to the process, said Bienen, and “something good is happening.” Bienen concluded by citing a famous book written by Albert Hirschman in 1970, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States.  There are three ways a worker can respond to unwelcome change, Hirschman said: he can buy into it, he can speak out and mediate, or he can leave. Faculty members familiar with the book felt that Bienen emphasized the third. “It’s a big world," Bienen said. "Find another university.”

Then Linzer commented on what Medill students have taken to calling Quotegate--allegations that last year Lavine made up a quote and claimed it came from a student praising a marketing class. Linzer appointed an ad hoc committee to look into the matter and two weeks ago announced that the committee had cleared the dean. At the faculty meeting, Linzer refused to say if the committee had actually turned in a report, let alone what criteria it had used and what evidence it had reviewed. Linzer’s reply was that the process confidential and he had no intention of saying a word more. “Once a decision has been made it has been made,” said the provost. “Then we move on.”

The faculty’s sense of aggrievement runs a lot deeper than Quotegate, which might not have amounted to much if so many professors didn’t already feel Lavine was running roughshod over them as he overhauled the curriculum. Professor Jack Doppelt asked Bienen one of the few questions; he wondered why it was necessary for Lavine to suspend faculty governance in order to revamp the curriculum. Doppelt called that a “toxic statement” from the administration to the faculty. Bienen replied that he didn’t think faculty governance had completely disappeared, but that at any rate Lavine was under orders to move with dispatch.

Bienen also said he was puzzled by why the Chicago press has been paying so much attention to Medill recently. He supposed it was a good thing, in that it shows that people care. It's really not such a good thing. It's possible that Quotegate has run its course--there’s probably no way of proving or disproving that Lavine was quoting someone, and Linzer made it clear that as far as NU concerned, the subject’s closed. But the provenance of a quote is one of those niggling details that do matter to journalists, and the failure of Lavine and his superiors to show they even understand that is a big reason why the press has been so relentless--consider these pieces by Eric Zorn --and so damning.

PS: Isn't Exit, Voice, and Loyalty a book that belongs on every newspaper person's desk?

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