The following is taken from the Fall 1999 issue of SSA Magazine.
Since this profile was written, David Protess is no longer a professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School.
David Protess, A.M. ’70, Ph.D. ’74, was recognized for distinguished service to society and outstanding professional contributions with the 1999 Edith Abbott Alumni Award. Protess was honored with a presentation in June at the SSA Annual Dinner and at the all-University Alumni Assembly held in Rockefeller Memorial Chapel.
The award, named in honor of Edith Abbott, a pioneer in the field of social work and SSA’s first dean, is given every two years by the SSA Alumni Association. It recognizes SSA alumni for exceptional leadership in an agency or community, meaningful contributions through research or publications, or creativity demonstrated by traditional, nontraditional, or innovative approaches to practice.
In nominating him for the award, Fay Lomax Cook, professor of human development and social policy and director of the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University, commented, “David has made significant contributions to society, to teaching and mentoring students, and to social science scholarship … I know of no other SSA alumnus who has made the profound and far-reaching societal contributions and the outstanding contributions that David has.” This sentiment was echoed by Irving Spergel, the George Herbert Jones Professor at SSA, who added “David Protess is an eminent leader in the field of human rights, social justice, and criminal justice.”
Currently professor of journalism at Northwestern University’s Medill School and faculty fellow at the university’s Institute for Policy Research, Protess’s impact extends well beyond the academy. His most investigative reporting projects helped free four African Americans (dubbed the Ford Heights Four) who served eighteen years in prison for an interracial homicide they did not commit, and helped secure the release of Anthony Porter just two days before he was schedule to be executed for a double murder for which he was wrongfully convicted.
Protess’s career in journalism includes serving as research director of the Better Government Association and as contributing editor of Chicago Lawyer Magazine where he began writing about miscarriages of justice. He has been recognized for his investigative work by being named Person of the Week by ABC network news and through receipt of the 23rd Annual Humanitarian Award presented by the National Alliance to End Racism and Political Repression. In July, the Chicago City Council unanimously passed a proclamation in his honor for “helping truth emerge from the shadow … and dogged persistence to the ideal of equal justice for all.” Says Dean Lawlor, “David Protess’s career exemplifies the values of investigation, compassion, and social action that are the essence of the award. We are proud to have him as a graduate.”