Misquoted Professor Has Sharp Words for Student Reporters

Posted by at 1:05AM

As I recently wrote a response to the controversial Daily article “Student athletes had access to list of easy courses”, I feel it only appropriate that I update our readers on the most recent drama in what seems like an entirely unnecessary saga about a list of courses.  Though published in The Daily, the article was actually the brain-child of the organization California Watch and the Stanford course COMM 177.  In fact, The Daily excuses itself from any involvement in its production in an editor’s note preceding the article: “The following story was not written or edited by The Stanford Daily staff. The production occurred under the guidance of California Watch.”

Now, while that seems a little hands-off for an editor to me, the bigger point is that the investigative journalists, namely authors Amy Harris and Ryan Mac, behind the article needed to do a little more investigating before it hit the presses.  Or at least, that’s Associate Professor Donald Barr’s opinion, which he made very clear in an email to the two authors that has been circulating on campus email lists.

The entire email can be seen below, but in it Barr expresses his displeasure at being “egregiously misquoted.”  In the original article, Barr was quoted as saying “(Stanford) accommodates athletes in the manner that they accommodate students with disabilities.”  Barr not only denies ever saying such a thing, but he also chides Daily reporters for what he felt was the implication that his course, “Social Class, Race, Ethnicity, Health” was lacking in academic rigor.

Barr’s ultimatum: “It is for this reason that I request that you immediately retract your story, and publicly correct your error.  Failure to do would, I believe, violate core ethical principles of journalism.”  I suppose that means the ball is in The Daily’s court.

The email from Donald Barr below:

Sent: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 1:09:29 PM

Subject: misquotation

Dear Ryan and Julie,

I want you to know that I was shocked and deeply offended in reading a news story in which you egregiously misquoted me.  I must ask that you immediately retract your story, and notify all those who have quoted it of your error.

During the brief interview one of you had with me during my office hours, I explained that I, as other faculty, sometimes accommodate student-athletes’ off-campus competition schedules by arranging with the coaching staff for the proctoring of examinations.  As I explained to you, we also do this for other students involved in certain types of extracurricular activities.

At no point during our brief conversation did I discuss the University’s policies towards providing reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities. Neither did I compare the accommodations provided for athletes to the accommodations provided for students with disabilities.  It is for this reason that I request that you immediately retract your story, and publicly correct your error.  Failure to do would, I believe, violate core ethical principles of journalism.

I am copying Mark Katches on this message.  As the instructor in the course for which you wrote your story, I believe he shares in the responsibility for correcting the error.

As an additional concern, the student who interviewed me never raised the issue of the academic rigor of my course.  Nevertheless the published article implies that course grading is lenient.  I believe the academic rigor of the course is reflected in its selection by the University as meeting the General Education Requirement in Education for Citizenship/American Cultures.  In addition, at the request of a national publisher, I have written a textbook covering the material covered in the course.  That text is in use at colleges and universities throughout the country.

Donald Barr, MD, PhD
Associate Professor (Teaching), Department of Pediatrics


2 Responses to “Misquoted Professor Has Sharp Words for Student Reporters”

  1. dan says:

    The Daily’s response: http://www.stanforddaily.com/2011/03/10/letter-from-the-editor-story-on-list-of-courses/

  2. Ryan Sudeck says:

    As you may or not be aware, I was also quoted in the article entitled “Stanford athletes had access to list of ‘easy’ courses”. My reason for writing to you is in regards to this aforementioned direct quote.

    Not only is the quote misused and taken out of context BUT it was also obtained by recording a conversation without my consent. I will not address the relevancy or use of the quote in terms of context at this time as the methods by which it was obtained bear much more swift attention.

    Neither prior, during nor after my conversation with a friend of mine who was a contributor to the article was I informed that my quotes or name would be used. I was under the reasonable understanding that our face-to-face conversation was to be confined to the two of us. I had no knowledge of a recording device present, nor was knowledge given to me by the interviewer.

    Such journalistic conduct is unethical. I have requested that my remarks are immediately removed from the story online and from ALL versions of the story that appear elsewhere and am in contact with multiple organizations within the university.

    Stanford athletes are the best both on the field and in the classroom and I apologize if this article has seemingly done anything to diminish that. Know that I love this university, respect every one of my fellow athletes and was wrongfully used in the production of this article.

    I will continue to directly address those who feel the need to contact me in regards to the article.

    -Ryan Sudeck


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