University Departures Put Student Journalists in Spotlight

Two prominent departures at top universities this month have a common link: inquisitive student journalists.

Stanford University’s president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, announced on Wednesday that he would resign from his position and retract three decades-old research papers, after an independent review of his scientific work was prompted by coverage in the campus newspaper, The Stanford Daily.

Last week, Northwestern University fired its head football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, after its student newspaper, The Daily Northwestern, reported that his players had engaged in hazing rituals.

The back-to-back revelations have highlighted the important role of college newspapers in holding to account the powerful institutions that house them.

“I think it’s pretty clear that without our reporting, this report wouldn’t have come around,” said Theo Baker, the investigations editor of The Stanford Daily.

Mr. Baker, 18, resurfaced claims in a Nov. 29 article for The Stanford Daily that neuroscience research papers in which Dr. Tessier-Lavigne was listed either as principal author or co-author had altered imagery. The claims had been repeated over the years on PubPeer, a website that allows scientists to discuss research.

The next day, Stanford University opened an investigation into Dr. Tessier-Lavigne with a panel of outside scientists. Their report, which was released on Wednesday, found that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne “did not personally engage in research misconduct” for the 12 papers the panel reviewed, but that some of the papers did show manipulated research data by members of his labs and that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne did not take sufficient steps to correct the record.

But their report pushed back on a claim made by The Stanford Daily in February that a 2009 Alzheimer’s research paper Dr. Tessier-Lavigne wrote when he was an executive at the biotech company Genentech had been the subject of an internal review that had found falsified data and that Dr. Tessier-Lavigne had covered it up. Dr. Tessier-Lavigne denied those claims.

“That allegation appears to be mistaken, as Genentech has stated,” the panel’s report said, though it noted “multiple problems” with the 2009 study.

Kaushikee Nayudu, the editor in chief and president of The Stanford Daily, said in a statement on Wednesday that the newspaper stood by its reporting.

“The Daily never reported that Marc Tessier-Lavigne personally engaged in manipulation of research,” she said. “We had access to different information and sources than the panel, which acknowledged that they did not grant sources anonymity. It’s possible that different conclusions may be reached based on these differences of process.”

Mr. Baker declined to comment on the criticism in the report. But in an article published on Wednesday after the review was released, Mr. Baker reported that some witnesses had refused to talk to Stanford’s panel because they were not guaranteed anonymity and that the panel had been aware of additional allegations that were not included in the final report.

Mr. Baker is the son of The New York Times’s chief White House correspondent, Peter Baker, and Susan B. Glasser, a writer for The New Yorker. In February, he became the youngest recipient of a Polk Award for his investigation into Dr. Tessier-Lavigne.

“More than anything, to me, this should raise conversations about the value of student journalism,” Mr. Baker said. “If you love a place, and I really do love Stanford,” he added, “you want to push it to be more transparent.”

The Daily Northwestern reported that Northwestern University’s football players engaged in hazing rituals. The school’s head football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, was fired this month.Credit…Matt Marton/Associated Press

At Northwestern, reporting by students ripped open a hazing scandal in its football program. An article, written by Nicole Markus, Alyce Brown, Cole Reynolds and Divya Bhardwaj on July 8, reported the extent of hazing allegations among football players at the university, including forced nudity and coerced sexual acts, and showed how the university had mishandled its investigation into the hazing, placing Mr. Fitzgerald, the coach, only on a two-week suspension.

Two days later, the reporters followed up with an article on the racist culture in the football program. Mr. Fitzgerald was fired that day. (Mr. Fitzgerald said in a statement to ESPN at the time that he was “surprised” and that his agent and lawyer would “take the necessary steps to protect my rights in accordance with the law.”)

The students’ investigation prompted a lawsuit against Northwestern and Mr. Fitzgerald that was filed Tuesday by a former Northwestern football player who alleges that he was subjected to hazing, physical abuse and racial discrimination.

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