Friday, February 15, 2008

2-15-08: Northwestern Columnist Exposes Dastardly Dean

Sometimes an exposé reveals something important. Sometimes it exposes nothing special. Most of the time, it’s blown out of proportion because of its topic. This is, yet again, one of those instances.

A columnist for The Daily Northwestern, the student newspaper for Northwestern University, wrote an article (though not a column, since it was more of an investigative journalism piece) about some anonymous quotes a dean of the school used in two instances in a school magazine. They were allegedly from students, and both were pretty mundane. Neither would have likely given the quoted student a bad name or anything like that. But, the quotes were left as anonymous.

But this didn’t settle well with columnist David Spett. He decided to do a little investigation, and found that none of the students who could’ve given one of the quotes (it was about a class they had recently taken) said they had made it. Spett even went so far as to have a meeting with the dean himself. The dean didn’t get angry or hide anything, he just said it didn’t violate any ethical rules.

I heard this story on the radio, and the host of the program spoke to Spett about this. I have to say, the kid didn’t come across like he had revealed anything monumental, or that he had won any battles or anything. He just remarked that he had been curious and had decided to investigate a little, and didn’t pretend like it was a huge deal. He still wrote an article about it, but that’s his right, so that’s fine.

Frankly, the whole thing came across to me as simply a student catching a lazy dean in the act, and the dean not fessing up to it. He couldn’t recall which student had made the quote or when it had been made. He thought it had been made in an e-mail conversation, and couldn’t find the e-mail. Either way, what I think happened is that he had been given some feedback from students, heard something good from one of them, and paraphrased. It’s not 100% ethical, but does it really need to be if it’s for publicity? The purpose of the article wasn’t to give a fair and balanced look at a particular course or curriculum. It was to say how great a certain class was.

I applaud the kid for writing an interesting article, and calling the dean out. I’m glad he didn’t go crazy and start spewing any conspiracy theories. It turned out to be much ado about nothing, but it did have some potential. I thought the dean also reacted well. He’d look like an ass if he had berated the student.

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