Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Comments on The Troubled Waters 

Fiasco at the University of Minnesota

Gateway1 has presented a good analysis of some of the materials made available by the University under the Freedom of  Information Act.  I am in disagreement over who bears the primary responsibility, however.  I think that the president and the academics involved are primarily culpable.  There are other ways of communication including telephone and direct conversation.  It would be best if this whole matter were independently investigated, since the president, the provost, the administration including the Office of the General Counsel, and several deans are involved.  

A mechanism has been suggested: A Call For An Independent Investigation of Troubled Waters at the University of Minnesota | StarTribune.com

From the comments of Gateway1 on a post about: 

 The Minnesota Daily did a story (and an editorial) about the documents relating to Kristin Duncanson's review of the film back in April. But Duncanson's review didn't lead to anything - other than confirming that Big Ag wouldn't like this film (what a shock!). A CFANS dean (Beverly Durgan) actually said in an 9/7 email that "this video is not based on science." Huh? What? Please enlighten us, Dean Durgan - what is it based on? (but - no - don't worry, folks ; Big Ag has no influence at the U)

What the Bell wanted to do all along was to sit down with these folks and watch the film with them. This was a plan to warn the U's Big Ag Donors and Supporters about the film (sad - but it is the reality of Big Ag donations). No one EVER talked about even the POSSIBILITY of stopping the film from being shown.

The real story of these documents is that Karen Himle unilaterally pulled the film from broadcast and Pres. Bruininks  stood by and watched it happen. The documents also clearly show that Himle lied about Dean Levine's role in pulling the film. In fact - as soon as she had done it, Levine warned that it might be seen as censorship.

And the lies continued with Dan Wolter as Liar-In-Chief. As was stated in the documents, "Dan has neatly shifted the responsibility away from Karen". Nice job, Dan!

Bruininks made up his mind about the film before he even saw it. Himle says to Bruininks in a 9/7 email: "Bob, I know how disappointed you were today when I reported on the outcome of the Bell's work on the Mississippi" (remember - this is the person who later described it as propaganda). Bruininks did not even watch the one-hour film until just before he left for Morocco (eleven days after Himle cancelled the broadcast).

On Sept. 15 (before he left) he responded to the President of the McKnight Foundation which had spent $150,000 on the film. President Kate Wolford had just found out on that day (9/15) about the pulling of the film. Bruininks writes to her: "the director of the Bell Museum felt it was appropriate to conduct an additional peer review and determine how to proceed." Himle had convinced everyone to put the blame on the Bell Museum.

At least one person in Morrill Hall understood the problem - Al Sullivan.
On 9/17 he wrote this email to Bruininks and Levine:
"Though I am sure it will be difficult, and I imagine there has been serious discussion, I sure hope the University can quickly come up with an explanation about canceling the opening of this film that will pass the straight-face test. Leaving matters of legality and authority aside, the appearance is awful. This sure looks like censorship in favor of big agriculture. And everyone who might really say something appears to be muzzled. That is a strange and awkward position for a university. If I am deeply troubled, and I am, you have to imagine how this will play out with many, many others."
Later that day he wrote to Susan Weller:
"There are many people out there that think this is only because of concern about reaction from big agriculture, and I admit to thinking that is what is going on. I spent my career working close to the interests of big agriculture and their apologists in ag schools (of course, not everyone), and trying to resist their efforts to squelch natural resource voices."
Reading these documents is a very disturbing but enlightening experience. You get to see first-hand how the head of PR - showing her bias against the film from the very start (her 9/6 email) - single-handedly tried to censor it and then cover-up that censorship. You can see how she blames everyone but herself for this disaster. And then finally you can see how she really feels about the film - calling it "propaganda" seven different times in one short email.

Karen Himle has brought shame upon the University and besmirched the reputations of the people who made the film. Her apology was a joke. She needs to go. Now.
As mentioned in the introduction, I have some problems with the last two paragraphs.  I do not believe for a minute that Ms. Himle did this unilaterally.  The question is: Who knew that the film was to be pulled and approved or at least assented to this action?

President Bruininks?

To have the president, the provost, and the Office of the General Counsel "look into the matter" is unsatisfactory. The General Counsel self-described himself as the lawyer for the president and the provost.  What about the university's interest?  What about the reputation of the university? As pointed out elsewhere the involvement of the president, provost, and General Counsel in any investigation is a conflict of interest.

(Who will guard the guardians?)

These actions continue to demonstrate this administration's basic lack of understanding of the concept of conflict of interest. 



Anonymous said...

Hi - this is "gateway1". I'm being anonymous because I did do a little work on the film but I'm just speaking for me ; not for anyone else involved.
I wouldn't quite say that I know "where the bodies are buried" ; I do have some inside knowledge but not much. And all the stuff I referenced in this MPR comment was from the (now) publicly available emails. I just downloaded them from the Land Stewardship Project website. I do respect the opinion of this blogger but I just find it really really hard to believe at this point that the actual act of ordering the censorship came from someone other than Himle herself. If it happened that way then she is doing a pretty amazing job of covering it up. She has really damned herself with some of these emails she wrote so if she IS covering up then it's quite a calculated and comprehensive plan. And unless she or the person she's covering up for confesses then we'll probably never know.

Mr. B. said...

Thanks for your comments. I've modified the post. Let me know if it is OK.

My point is that I don't believe that Himle all by herself and without consultation with anyone else, pulled the plug. I believe that she must have gotten an OK from someone before she did this.

For example how about the quote:

9/7 Levine to Susan Weller

"Karen Himle viewed the documentary and called TPT to cancel it--the President is aware of this. Sorry to ruin your vacation."

To me this means that he was aware that this was going to happen. The buck stops on his desk. This is censorship and he should not have let it happen.

Your thoughts?

I also point out that there very well may have been meetings, phone calls, and text messages that involved communication of the president with others on this matter. Unless there is an independent investigation - we will never know.

Anonymous said...

Yes - thanks for the changes.

I think that 9/7 quote just means that she did it and then informed Bruininks. I found at least one email from him where HE wants HER to check an email before he sends it. His reaction at the MPR taping on 9/28 (I was there) was quite amazing - he was very very upset at the way she had been treated. She seems to have his complete trust.

I do think that his inaction on this matter shows a fair amount of cowardice and incompetence. And I do agree that there certainly were communications that we are not seeing (and some redacted stuff as well) but how will an Independent Investigator uncover that? Especially in the case of phone conversations - if they were not recorded then there is no record.

Mr. B. said...

Depends on how an investigation were to be conducted...

It would be interesting to see what the president's response would be to some of the questions we have been discussing.

It is also possible that some of the people he had these discussions with might not tell the same story.

Certainly with the president, the provost, and the General Counsel running any investigation the results will not be very convincing.

I hope that the media is able to get the redacted stuff released. One has to assume it is damning, otherwise why redact? If it has been redacted for a legitimate reason, then please explain why?