09/21/2011 03:25 pm ET Updated Nov 21, 2011

John Lavine Leaving Medill: Northwestern Journalism School Dean To Step Down Next Year

The dean of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, who has been at the center of several controversies during his six years at the helm, announced in an e-mail statement to students and faculty that he will step down from the position next August.

Dean John Lavine's ongoing scrutiny of professor David Protess's investigations class and an inquiry into anonymous student statements that prompted a media firestorm led by the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn dubbed "Quotegate," announced in an e-mail titled "Future Plans" that he is leaving the school to "seek out new ways for the news media to remain viable" and spend more time with his wife.

"When I became dean, journalism and marketing communications were being roiled by a digital tsunami, and soon thereafter, by one of the worst economic downturns in a century," Lavine said in a statement. "In the midst of these difficult circumstances, we adopted unprecedented curricular change. Northwestern supported our plan with the addition of more faculty and staff with new skills, knowledge, and experience than at any time in Medill’s history."

The curriculum redesign was one of many contentious issues that forced a standoff between the dean, who worked with the university's business school for 16 years, and the journalism school's faculty, culminating in the formal renaming of the school to "The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications."

In 2008, a student columnist questioned the dean after finding multiple anonymous quotes in an alumni magazine praising a new marketing course in the school's new Integrated Marketing Communications program. The columnist found "reason to be suspicious" about the quotes after all the students in the class denied discussing it with the dean, and another instructor at Medill pointed out that the quote frankly sounded like something Lavine would say.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn picked up the story and followed the ensuing controversy, which included a formal statement signed by 16 members of the Medill faculty calling for strict scrutiny of the dean's actions in accordance with the school's ethics policy. Professor David Protess, who was asked to step down from his position leading the Innocence Project under Lavine's leadership, helped write the faculty statement.

"Accuracy and truthfulness are non-negotiable requirements for any material prepared for publication in any forum, including in marketing and public relations," said the faculty statement. "Indeed, the defense that Medill magazine is a public relations vehicle and therefore held to a lesser standard than other forms of publication is an insult to Medill's Integrated Marketing Communications faculty and staff, who are bound by the same Integrity Code, in all its particulars, as are the school's journalism students and faculty."

Zorn, who dedicated eight columns to the unfolding drama, argued that what would have been a one-day issue became a metaphor for a larger problem at the school and in the changing journalism industry, as new media blurred the lines of journalism ethics.

"The question became larger: Not just, "Did the dean pipe a few quotes?" but "Is the dean lying now to reporters and the university community about his own journalistic practices and ethics?" Zorn wrote in his final column on the controversy.

During Lavine's tenure, the school grew significantly, with the addition of a satellite undergraduate program in Qatar and the expansion of the Integrated Marketing Communications concentration and certificate program.

"It has been quite an odyssey," Lavine said in Wednesday's statement. "Together we've accomplished far more than was envisioned in our Medill 2020 plan. Along the way, we've faced and overcome major challenges, as well as some controversies; when you undertake seismic change, both are inevitable."