Protess on Leave

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David Protess, embattled director of the Medill Innocence Project, is on leave — a leave that as described by Northwestern University, sounds a lot like Coventry. The following statement comes Tuesday from Alan Cubbage, Northwestern University's vice president for university relations:

"Professor David Protess will be on leave from Northwestern University for Spring Quarter 2011. While on leave, Professor Protess will have no faculty responsibilities, including teaching or serving as Director of the Medill Innocence Project. During the Spring Quarter, the important work of both the class on investigative journalism and of the Innocence Project will continue under the direction of Medill investigative journalist and tenured full professor Alec Klein."

But news that Protess isn't teaching this semester isn't new. Here's the Sun-Times saying so on March 18.

Meanwhile, the Daily Northwestern reported Tuesday what Protess says he will be doing: establishing an "autonomous Innocence Project." This will be "a nonprofit organization devoted to investigative reporting of criminal justice issues," and it will "closely resemble that of the Medill Innocence Project, which has freed 12 innocent men from prison, including five from death row, since Protess started it in 1996."

The Daily Northwestern continued:

Protess said it will be staffed by students from Chicago area schools, including Northwestern. He plans for students to receive course credit for full-time and part-time internships with the project.

"My goal is to launch a project that I think Chicago needs — an autonomous Innocence Project," Protess said. "But that doesn't mean I'll stay to direct it. I'll revisit my future at the end of the spring,"

He added that though the initiative will be completely independent of NU, he hopes the University will recognize the project as a valid journalism residency for Medill students.

"This doesn't in any way sever my ties to NU," Protess said. "It simply allows me to have the time to do something…it does not compete with MIP (Medill Innocence Project)."

The Daily Northwestern then went into the back story, which concerns allegations by Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez that Protess and some of his students behaved improperly as they investigated the murder conviction of Anthony McKinney. who's been behind bars for more than 30 years. The university has recently pushed Protess to arm's length: in an earlier statement Cubbage said that "the laudable goal of the Innocence Project would not justify any improper actions that may have been taken by Professor Protess."

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