Thursday, September 30, 2010

University of Minnesota President

Contradicts Himself

Which is it, Mr. President?

(Hat Tip to Molly Priesmeyer!)

Time for some straight shooting and honest talk from President Bruininks?

U of M President Robert Bruininks said talk of delaying the "Troubled Waters" documentary, which he admits should have been handled and communicated differently, never threatened academic freedom. "That was never at risk and never at stake," he said.

But on the day before, he said just the opposite-

"As the facts surrounding the production of the film have become clearer, it was readily apparent to me that this is an issue of academic freedom; as a result, we immediately resolved to show it as planned." 


Retroactive Faculty Consultation

at the University of Minnesota

Or, Business as Usual?

Perhaps after the public flap over Troubled Waters the U of M administration will start paying more than lip service to rules and regs?

From an email by AHC VP and med school dean Cerra:

Those who participated in the development of the University-wide Conflicts of Interest Policy created a separate document incorporating virtually all of the standards that will govern faculty and staff involved in clinical health care, titled Individual Conflicts of Interest:  Clinical Health Care – Patient Contact in the Academic Health Center. This document supplements the University-wide policy and therefore is referred to as Appendix A. 
In early July, I met with AHC leadership, disseminated Appendix A, and asked that they seek input from their respective colleges and schools. I met with this group again in late July and received their support for the implementation of the draft document.  Appendix A was then disseminated widely within the AHC in early August as a final document. 
Since then, Lynn Zentner, Director, Office of Institutional Compliance, and I have received feedback indicating that many of you did not have an opportunity to review and provide feedback before Appendix A was considered to be in effect.
During a recent meeting that Lynn and I had with members of the AHC FCC, attendees requested that the document be posted for a 30-day comment period.  We agreed to do that. 
Appendix A will be posted at  beginning Thursday, September 30, and continuing through Friday, October 29. 

Another egregious violation of faculty governance policy at the University of Minnesota.

MedCity News Reviews

AHC VP and Medical School Dean

Frank Cerra's Tenure at

the University of Minnesota


Thomas Lee

Cerra leaves University of Minnesota with a mixed legacy

Under Cerra’s watch, the medical school suffered what critics call embarrassing ethical lapses between its physicians and industry. The school’s proposed conflict-of-interest policy has been slammed by people who say it doesn’t go far enough, as well as those who claim it will stifle innovation and business ties.

Here lies the conflict of his career: Dr. Cerra, who retires at the end of the year, has worked hard to position the university as both a research powerhouse and a major catalyst for economic development.
But whether a university still haunted by major government sanctions more than a decade ago can pursue its agenda — and preserve its integrity — is very much an open question.

...the state’s financial woes could hamper the [biomedical discovery] district. The university already has scaled back the project: instead of constructing separate buildings for cardiovascular and cancer research, the school plans to build a facility that houses both departments. The district’s success also depends on recruiting world-class scientists and researchers. That requires money. Lots of it.

Cerra also was instrumental in creating The Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, a joint venture between the university and Mayo Clinic.

State officials had hoped the partnership, founded in 2003, would create companies and jobs, but the partnership’s progress has been modest at best

Cerra’s tenure also has been marked by serious legal and ethical woes at the medical school.

When the university appointed Cerra senior vice president of health sciences in 1996, the medical school already was reeling from high-profile scandals. [Cerra's own appointment came under fire because of his ties to Caremark Inc., a company under federal investigation at the time for paying kickbacks to doctors.]

In 1994, a federal court sentenced Dr. Barry Garfinkel, a former director of the school’s Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, to prison for falsifying documents related to clinical trials of the drug Anafranil.

In 1995, a federal grand jury indicted Dr. John Najarian, a renowned transplant surgeon, on charges of fraud, theft and tax evasion relating to the illegal sale of ALG, an experimental anti-rejection drug. Although the Food and Drug Administration never approved ALG, the school’s surgery department, which Najarian chaired, sold $80 million-worth of ALG throughout the 1970s and 1980s, with much of that money benefiting the university.

A jury acquitted Najarian the following year, but the damage was done. The school paid $32 million in fines, and the National Institutes of Health placed severe restrictions on the university’s freedom to use research money.
The Najarian scandal, observers say, severely curtailed the school’s appetite for pursuing commercialization deals with outside companies.

“Yeah, that was something that took us several years to get over,” Dr. Cerra said. “The whole turmoil took several years of working with everyone so they were ready to move in a common direction. We’re coming out in much better shape.”

Has it though? As the university rebuilds its ties to the business community and aggressively pursues commercialization, the medical school has once again suffered from perceived ethical breaches.

Last year, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis reported that recently released court documents showed AstraZeneca, the maker of psychiatric drug Seroquel, claimed the drug was superior to standard treatments for schizophrenia even though it knew the research did not back the claim.

Dr. Charles Schultz, chief of psychiatry at the university, had presented research to a medical conference that backed AztraZeneca’s claims. Schultz claims the company never shared its concerns with him.

In 2003, a St. Paul woman sued the university, accusing the school of forcibly enrolling her son in an AstraZenca-funded clinical trial involving Seroquel. The man later killed himself. An FDA investigation ultimately found no evidence of wrongdoing, and a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit.

The list goes on. Dr. David Polly, an orthopedic surgeon, drew fire for his consulting deals with Medtronic Inc.

The Star Tribune reported that Dr. Leo Furcht had funneled university grant money into a company he ultimately sold for nearly $10 million. Furcht had been serving as co-chair of a task force drafting new rules on conflict-of-interest problems.

Deborah Powell, who had appointed Furcht to the task force, ultimately stepped down as dean of the medical school. She was replaced by Cerra — the first person to head both the medical school and the academic health center.
Cerra has steadfastly defended the school’s need to collaborate with outside companies. Nevertheless in August, the academic health center released new rules governing potential conflicts of interest between personnel in its medical school and business interests, including drug and medical device companies.
All of the people covered by the health center’s new policy must report their financial interests, as well as executive positions and board memberships, to the university annually. The dollar threshold for triggering a conflict-of-interest review by an internal committee is $5,000 at the academic health center, compared with $10,000 for others at the university.

Cerra praises the new policy, but others aren’t so happy. Gary Schwitzer, a former university health journalism professor recruited by Dr. Furcht to serve on the task force, said the school rushed the process.

The result was a watered-down policy that omits key recommendations, such as banning industry efforts to fund education events for faculty, Schwitzer said.

Cerra has largely escaped the turmoil unscathed. Even faculty members who have been openly critical of Cerra declined to comment for this story because of his impending retirement.
[Disclosure: I declined comment.]
Schwitzer, who now runs the HealthNewsReview blog, said he does not know Cerra personally. However, holding top university officials like Cerra and president Robert Bruininks (a Cerra ally who’s also retiring) accountable for the medical school’s problems is perfectly legitimate, he said.

“Somebody has to be responsible,” Schwitzer said.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Leadership - and not Equivocation -

Called for in Resolution of Troubled Waters

Controversy at University of Minnesota

It doesn’t sound like some members of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources are buying the assurances today of Dean Al Levine of the U — or those of President Bob Bruininks yesterday — that no censorship or self-censorship was involved in the pulling of Troubled Waters.

On censorship and self-censorship
Rep. Jean Wagenius (co-chair):
We have done some requests for proposals (in which) I’ve been very surprised that we haven’t got people saying, “I want that money.” Particularly in waters. … We need to go back and ask, “Why didn’t we get scientists asking us for money?
I think what has happened is that the U has kind of shattered its credibility, and what I think was happening back then was that there was a chilling effect, that scientists didn’t want our money to look at some of the issues that we thought were important because they would run into this buzz saw of censorship. So I think we need to discuss that in our next request for proposals. …
Why would you ask for money, research something that is going to say, “Ugh! This is a problem we have to solve. It deals with agriculture.” when the first thing that would happen is the Farm Bureau would come and say, “No no no no,” or “Nobody wants to deal with it.”
The elephant in the room is, I think chilling. I don’t think it was a process. I think it was a kind of self-censorship. But it is curious to me – more than curious – that we have had requests out there with real money, and we haven’t gotten anybody to say, “Hey, I want some of that money” for solving some of the problems we’re talking about.
Jeff Broberg (co-vice-chair):
I agree with that. And I think there is filtering that occurs, and it’s almost this institutionalized problem that we need to get to the root of.
Last week I talked to probably 15 different people about the film, from the dean and professors … and…you know the first thing I found was when the vice president for communications (Karen Himle) calls, you jump and say, “How high?” on the way up.
And it filters people’s opinions whether they really recognize it or not. And when it’s filtered around a denial of the problem, that’s a real dilemma. So we need to have that discussion, I think, and ask some serious questions about the University administration and maybe other agencies. I don’t know.
We have a Century Farm. And I’m scared. I’m really concerned, and the latest thing with the University of Minnesota really scared me. Because what I face in my community is what I term an ‘institutional denial’ about the impacts. There’s nobody listening that’s managing the land. And it really scares me that a public relations person (with) a single-minded view that doesn’t want to disparage anybody would think that it would be OK to squelch the discussion.
Al Berner:
I think sometimes we have to remember where the bulk of their funding comes from. If you’re doing drug testing, it comes from the drug companies. If you’re doing agricultural research, it’s coming from agriculture – the big ones, Cargill and the rest. I mean, you’re only going to answer the question they’re asking. You’re not going to look at the collateral damage, the externalities, because they don’t want to know that. So you’re not going to do stuff you’re not getting paid for.

On the polarizing effect of the U’s handling of the controversy:
Jeff Broberg:
My wife said, “Now everybody’s battle lines are drawn. So I know what people are going to say on both sides of this.” And that’s a consequence of that University decision that I’ve already seen. I have farmer friends who say, “I don’t want to see the film that vilifies agriculture.” So there was a blunder that is deeper than just that one thing, and it’s something they need to understand as public relations people – the consequences of their efforts.
Finally, here are some others on the merits of the film and its balance:
Sen. Jim Vickerman (co-chair):
If I look I can find faults on each side of that. … I don’t think the film was that bad. I can be on either side of that. It doesn’t hurt to show it.
Norman Moody:
Are we really farming the land, or are we farming subsidies? Farmers are at the mercy of what the next Farm Bill is going to be. And (the film) pointed that out. It was balanced. I didn’t feel negative one way or the other. I just thought: “This is the way the world is. … It isn’t (just) the farmers’ fault. It isn’t (just) the cities’ fault. We all own what we do. Pointing it out is OK.
Nancy Gibson (co-chair):
There are some alternatives shown (to environmentally damaging farming practices). That was what was bright about the movie.
(I am sick at heart over this.  The University of Minnesota is my university and this makes my stomach turn.  How could anyone in the University administration have okayed this? It is a CLEAR violation of academic freedom.  And I do not believe for a second that Karen Himle pulled the plug by herself.  I suspect that the okay came from as high as the president.  Please prove me wrong, President Bruininks?)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Discrepancies in the Troubled Waters Story?

MPR reports:

After reading University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks’ take today on what happened in the Troubled Waters’ flap, I noticed that it doesn’t seem to mesh with what Bell Museum Director Susan Weller told us.

The main question: Who originally pulled the plug on the Twin Cities Public Television airing of Troubled Waters?

Here’s Bruininks:

It is important for me to acknowledge that Vice President Himle was asked by the Bell Museum to review the film, and she raised questions and concerns about it in her capacity as Vice President of University Relations.

 Here’s Weller’s version:

“When I was stepping on a plane Sept. 8 to go to Europe to give a presentation, I received a phone call that the (Twin Cities Public Television) broadcast had been canceled. And so then I’m on a plane, I arrive and I’m checking e-mails, trying to find out what happened. With the limited information I had, I decided that if the university was so concerned about the film … then we needed to go back and ensure that we had followed all our internal procedures, so that I could … really be able to stand behind (the film). And so my decision to postpone the screening at the Bell Museum was based on the fact that the broadcast was canceled. .. They were linked.”
So did the Bell tell Himle? Or did Himle/the university tell the Bell? Or is something missing from these two accounts?


My own question for the president: Did you discuss the pulling of the film with Ms. Himle prior to the decision to do this? 

U of M faculty, citing academic freedom,

call for investigation of Troubled Waters actions

And so it goes...

Molly Priesmeyer soldiers on:

After more than a week of bad press and internal and external pressure, the University of Minnesota announced last week it would be premiering the film Troubled Waters as originally planned.

Applauding this sudden turnaround were U of M faculty, students, and staff, many of whom had expressed their displeasure with the university's decision to halt the premiere.  On blogs and in classrooms, they called the move censorship by the university.

Faculty and staff have called for a full-scale investigation into just how the University public relations department came to make academic decisions about a research-based film.

"This should've never happened in the first place," said Christine Marran, associate professor of Asian Languages and Literatures ... "The main point for me and all faculty is that this kind of thing undermines faith in the process of academic freedom," said Marran.

"This cannot go without scrutiny," he [Jon Foley, the director of the U's Institute on the Environment] said. "We must clarify roles and responsibilities. And we also need to know just what happened here in order for academic freedom to be absolute and never again compromised like this."

"What it reveals," Rhoades [Gary Rhoades, the AAUP general secretary] said, "is that the community can have an impact on the university in fulfilling its public good responsibilities. And internally, research and monies should focus on the core aspects of the institution." In other words, Rhoades said, a land-grant institution shouldn't just serve the highest bidders.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Post in Chronicle of Higher Education: "World-Class Greatness at a Land-Grant University Near You?"

Friday, September 24, 2010

“The Bell Museum staff needs

an apology from the 

university administration.”

– Mike Banker, communications manager for the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, which oversees close to 70 percent of the funding of the film Troubled Waters.

A couple of University of Minnesota staffers are taking that message back to the mother ship after attending today’s meeting between Bell Museum officials, film co-funder McKnight Foundation and the commission.
 The groups met to hash out the circumstances that led to the Bell’s (now-reversed) cancellation of the premier of the river pollution documentary Troubled Waters.
As you recall, Bell Director Susan Weller said she canceled the museum’s showing of the film after the U announced it was pulling the film’s public television air date, ostensibly out of concern for balance and scientific accuracy.
It looks like the U administrators that caused the whole mess still haven’t talked to the commission about the affair. And I get the vibe that commission members are a bit miffed over it.
That’s understandable, considering the commission is overseeing the lion’s share of the film’s funding, is giving the U roughly $7.7 million for various projects this year — and is scheduled to hand out another $6.6 million or so next year.
At today’s meeting, Banker said, Bell officials walked commission personnel through a timeline of events behind the Bell’s decision to cancel its premier and “indicated where there might have been some miscommunication or lack of communication.”
Bell officials also told the commission “they would be doing some soul-searching — for lack of a better word — to make sure something like this didn’t happen again,” Banker said.
The Bell Museum doesn’t appear to have been involved in the decision to pull the Twin Cities Public Television broadcast, Banker said. Yet through this whole affair, the U has focused too much on the Bell’s role in the matter and not enough on its own handling of it, Banker said.
Both the commission and the McKnight Foundation asked the U to report in later on how it’s going to “ensure that the integrity of future grants is protected.”
Commission members will meet in the middle of next week to discuss the Troubled Waters affair, the “breach of trust” that occurred with the university, and how that trust can be mended, Banker said.

And while the Morrill Hall Gang is in apologizing mode,  they should pay a visit, on bended knee, to film director Larkin McPhee... 


Troubled Waters Aftermath

Are Certain Questions Off Limits

At the University of  Minnesota?

A film's near-suppression raises questions about the U.
 September 24, 2010

When the head of the University of Minnesota's public-relations department, Karen Himle, canceled the release of the film "Troubled Waters" earlier this month, the university did more than deny the public insights into how agriculture can play a positive role in improving water quality. It sent a troubling message to the people of Minnesota: At a public land-grant institution in which we all own a share, certain topics of discussion are taboo. 

The quashing of "Troubled Waters" goes beyond one film or the issues it covers. It goes to the heart of whether the U is truly a public institution that is "driven to discover," even when what is discovered could upset certain special interests. 

On Thursday, the U announced that the film had in fact been properly vetted and would be shown as scheduled. That's great news for the viewing public. But the troubling fact remains that a serious attempt was made by a public land-grant university to censor the dissemination of scientific/environmental information. 

 ...the censorship of a film that was reviewed by 27 scientists, 17 resource managers and extension educators, and (importantly) 10 farmers sends a chilling message to anyone who believes in an open environment for the pursuit, dissemination and debate of important, and often controversial, 

Only through such a free exchange of ideas will we adapt in a rapidly changing world. University officials claim that there was no outside pressure to cancel the original premiere of "Troubled Waters." If that's true, the situation is even more troubling: It means U officials practiced self-censorship. 

U of M President Robert Bruininks has over the years spoken eloquently about the need for the public to support the university. In fact, the U is in the process or considering a new conflict-of-interest policy that he hopes will hold the institution "accountable for our conduct" while building a "highly ethical culture."
The public outcry over the pulling of "Troubled Waters" shows that the people of Minnesota care enough about the U to correct it when it doesn't fulfill its mission. Bruininks needs to show that as a world-class public university, the U can use this controversy as an opportunity to demonstrate world-class respect for the people it serves.
Now Bruininks needs to undertake a full review to ensure that this kind of censorship does not take place again.

George Boody is executive director of the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project.

Is the University of Minnesota a Land Grant Institution

Or something else...

New Apple Raises Land Grant Fairness Issues Anew

The dispute over the commercialization of SweeTango, a new apple developed at the University of Minnesota, is not just a brouhaha in a bushel basket. It has important implications for the way we pay for and perform research and disseminate new technology in an era where taxpayers are less willing to foot the bill.

The specific issue is that university researchers developed a new apple, the SweeTango, that promises to be a big commercial success just like the Honeycrisp, one of its parent varieties. 
The current controversy stems from the fact that the university signed an exclusive agreement with the state's largest apple grower, Pepin Heights Orchard in Lake City, to commercialize the new apple. Pepin Heights in turn formed a marketing cooperative of 45 growers in five states and two Canadian provinces to grow and sell it. 

Other Minnesota orchards also can grow the apple, but they face limits on how many they can grow and how they may sell the fruit. Some of these growers have filed a lawsuit alleging the exclusive agreement and marketing restrictions violate federal and state laws and run counter to the historic mission of the agricultural research and extension system. 
That system, consisting of land-grant universities, agricultural experiment stations and the federal-state-county cooperative extension service, has added tremendously to the wealth of our country over the past 148 years, belying the now-commonly held but erroneous view that government cannot create wealth. 

Framers of the U.S. Constitution recognized that it was important to promote "the progress of science and useful arts" and, in Article 1, Section 1, gave Congress the power to issue patents and copyrights. But 70 years later, it was clear to many that even with these legal incentives to innovation, a free market would not produce economically optimal levels of technology research and dissemination.
And so Congress passed the Morrill Act granting federal lands to states to fund colleges of "agriculture and the mechanic arts." Ongoing federal funding for agricultural research and extension eventually followed.

All this took place before any formal economics of research and technology transfer. But these actions were fully congruent with modern theory. Much scientific research is what economists call a "public good." That means without government action, it won't be produced in sufficient quantities for an economy to reach optimal efficiency.

This was particularly true for agriculture, because unlike for patentable machinery, it is impossible to keep new varieties of plants or new farming techniques from spreading to everyone. In the 1870s, if Corliss designed a better steam engine or Singer improved the sewing machine, these companies could get patents that allowed them to reap financial benefits from their research and engineering. But before the development of hybrids whose seeds did not reproduce the parent plant, any seed company that developed a new variety of corn would be unable to prevent corn growers from passing seeds from their crop on to other growers. 

In any case, government support of agricultural research and extension fostered productivity growth that greatly aided overall economic growth in our country, just as it is doing for Brazil right now. Federal and state funds supported teaching, research and extension with new technology made available to all at no cost.
When we finally got around to funding basic and applied research in physics, chemistry and other fields, largely as a result of World War II, the Cold War and the space race, we found this also boosted productivity and economic growth. So did government funding of bio-medical research. Our economy would have grown faster if we had started such government funding earlier.

But things have changed. We no longer are willing to fund many sorts of research at past levels. Some of this is justified by changed circumstances. Once corn was hybridized, farmers could not save their own seed for replanting; the private sector took over much corn breeding because it could charge enough for superior varieties to recoup research costs. The same is true for some genetically modified plants. But taxpayer reluctance to support the effort is another reason for the funding cuts.

This puts land-grant universities in a bind. The University of Minnesota has more than a century of experience developing fruit varieties for cold regions. No private company matches that, and it's unlikely a private firm would spring up to tackle the task if the university terminated its program. The same is true for its research on wheat diseases and myriad other problems. 

Changes in patent law allow developers of plant varieties to charge users for improved genetics. Minnesota patented the Honeycrisp apple and earned some $8 million in royalties over the past two decades. But once public institutions that still receive state and federal funds start to charge for technology they produce, questions of fairness inevitably arise that would not apply in transactions between two private companies.


Judge Overrules Action of Provost

At University of Minnesota As

"Arbitrary and Capricious"

(Our provost is a lawyer and serial law school dean. He's a specialist in process and procedure and has even written a book on the topic: "Proportionality Principles in American Law.")

From Inside Higher Ed:

The University of Minnesota violated a former dental student's due process rights last year when administrators upheld his two-year suspension by a student judicial panel without considering evidence he had proffered, a state appeals court judge ruled Tuesday

"The record reveals that the university has no standards or guidelines for sanctions to be imposed by the provost for violations of the student conduct code, nor could the parties articulate one to this court."

"The provost’s decision was made, in part, on the ground that no specific university rule or procedure required “special consideration” of the effect of a particular sanction on a student. However, the CCSB hearing procedures require “a fair hearing” to determine whether a student’s conduct violated the student conduct code and to determine “what, if any, sanction should be imposed.”

The provost’s decision to strictly relate the sanction only to the seriousness of the offense is suggestive of the strictures of criminal law, but this is not a criminal case—it is a student disciplinary matter, which is subject to different considerations. Berge’s proffered evidence was relevant to assist the CCSB in making a reasoned decision, and as such it should have been admitted into evidence by the CCSB and considered in reaching its decision. In student disciplinary matters, the welfare of the student and the interests of the university are both important, and the effect of a sanction upon a student is a proper factor for consideration.

The provost’s decision relied on vague statements that were unsupportable and which make meaningful review on appeal virtually illusory. The provost purportedly relied on “past practice and precedent of the CCSB[] to disallow testimony on the personal and financial consequences of the student involved,” but, other than an allusion to a brief summary of various types of other disciplinary matters contained in the record, the provost’s decision provided no factual examples from which this court could evaluate the consistency of such prior practice or precedent." See Ganguli, 512 N.W.2d at 923 (“The University’s discretion is not unlimited, and its decisions must be explained.”).]

"For all of these reasons, we conclude that the provost’s decision to reinstate the CCSB decision was arbitrary and capricious..."]

The decision by a judge on the state Court of Appeals came in a case in which the university's Campus Committee on Student Behavior suspended Noah Berge after concluding that he had engaged in “[t]hreatening, harassing, or assaultive conduct" against a female student who had accused him of sexually assaulting her.

Although an advisory committee to the university's provost found that the judiciary panel had violated his due process rights by barring him from preventing evidence about the impact a suspension would have on his career, the provost reinstated the panel's ruling. 

The provost's decision was "arbitrary and capricious," the appeals court judge said, because the university lacks guidelines for disciplinary actions by the provost, among other reasons. The judge ordered Minnesota to give Berge another hearing before a new student behavior panel.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Star-Tribune Article about Troubled Waters

More interesting quotes...

From the Strib:

Brian DeVore, communications coordinator for the Land Stewardship Project, said the U's decision to now move forward with the film indicates that it listened to the public outcry and will not stand for censorship. "But now more than ever it's clear that the film was not pulled because of concerns over its scientific accuracy," he said, and the U still needs to answer questions about transparency and possible conflict of interest.

"It's been a dreadful situation for all of us," Weller [Bell Museum Director] said of the controversy. "Well-intentioned people made mistakes and there will need to be some kind of review of our internal procedures. The university is kind of like a big, messy family. We get along but we have our tiffs and when it goes public it's not pretty."

'A PR fiasco'

Legislators were also raising concerns Thursday about damage to the U's reputation, especially because several administrators including Himle did not answer questions for days.

"She shouldn't have made this decision in the first place," said Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis.

"The challenge for the university is that its PR expert is at the center of a PR fiasco," said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul. "This gets at the heart of academic freedom about an academic product."

So who pulled the plug?

On Troubled Waters...

Executive summary: Bell Museum Director does not know.  Calls for those involved in decision to 'fess up.

From MPR:

Bell director on the cancellation of the museum premier

MPR’s Tim Post spoke this evening with Bell Museum Director Susan Weller after the announcement that the University would indeed show the environmental documentary Troubled Waters.

On why she canceled the Bell Museum premier of the film:

    “When I was stepping on a plane Sept. 8 to go to Europe to give a presentation, I received a phone call that the (Twin Cities Public Television) broadcast had been canceled. And so then I’m on a plane, I arrive and I’m checking e-mails, trying to find out what happened. With the limited information I had, I decided that if the university was so concerned about the film … then we needed to go back and ensure that we had followed all our internal procedures, so that I could … really be able to stand behind (the film). And so my decision to postpone the screening at the Bell Museum was based on the fact that the broadcast was canceled. .. They were linked.”

On the fact-checking she felt was necessary for the film’s integrity — and why it took until today for her to be satisfied, and for the announcement to be made

    I’m not a micromanager. When I requested the documents, they were not made available to me immediately. (I requested them) Sept. 8 or 9. I started receiving (them) Monday the 20th.  I was overseas, so it would have been difficult for them to ship it to me overseas, I suppose. … As of Monday I have been receiving documentation I had requested. And I’ve been taking time to review parts of it. I’ve had the staff explain to me their procedures for fact-checking in detail. I felt when the scientific accuracy of the film was questioned by others, I needed to be able to stand by the product. I finally received all of the material late last night/this morning, so I (am) able to represent this film as being thoroughly fact-checked.

On the effect of the flap on the University’s reputation:

    It looks bad, and I would just say we’re kind of a big, sometimes dysfunctional family, and we need to have that weekly family conference once in a while to get us all back on the same page. I think there will be a lot of people, myself included, reflecting on how we could have done a better process, and how this could have been handled better. But we’re so in the moment. I really can’t comment on what happened specifically or what I’d do differently. It’s been very intense these past few days.

On who originally made the decision to cancel the TPT showing:

    That’s a piece of information I simply don’t have. I’ll leave it to those who were involved in that decision to self-disclose.
Doesn't Sound Like the Environmental

Groups are Going to Just Go Away

Over U of M Film Flip Flop...

A coalition of more than a dozen Minnesota farm and environmental groups has sent a letter today to University President Robert Bruininks requesting:

Himle’s resignation — if she’s deemed responsible for the decision — and “appropriately discipline others involved in making a decision that was ethically and professionally wrong”;

[Don't believe that Himle should be sacrificial lamb here...]

a full investigation of why and how the film’s premiere was canceled;

any necessary changes in procedures so that such a situation doesn’t happen again.

“It all smells so bad,” said Brian DeVore, communication coordinator for the Land Stewardship Project, a nonprofit organization that’s one of the signers of the letter. The about-face by the university, and its explanation, “kind of reinforces what we knew all along: Science was not reason it was pulled.”

Throughout the flap, he said, University officials “have been changing their story constantly. We want to know what was the reason (the film’s premier was originally canceled) and why.”

In addition to the Land Stewardship Project, groups signed on to the letter include:

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,
Minnesota Food Association,
Save Lake Superior Association,
Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness,
Izaak Walton League of America – Midwest Office,
Conservation Minnesota,
Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental Protection (SEMEP),
Mankato Area Environmentalists,
Duluth Audubon Society,
Friends of the Mississippi River,
Featherstone Farms and
the Mississippi River Fund.

Full Text of the Letter:

202 Morrill Hall
100 Church Street S.E.
University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, MN 55455
September 23, 2010

Dear President Bruininks:

As organizations working in the interests of farmers and the environment, we were appalled by the University’s recent decision to cancel the premiere of the documentary “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story.” This decision, and the lack of transparency surrounding it, causes us to question the University’s commitment to truth-telling and academic freedom—two pillars of a public University.

The University’s unwillingness to speak openly to either the news media or to the movie’s funders about the reasons for the film’s cancellation has led to a great deal of speculation surrounding the decision.

According to multiple media reports, including the /Star Tribune,/ Vice President of University Relations Karen Himle canceled the film abruptly without informing any of its nonprofit and public funders beforehand. We are deeply concerned about conflict of interest on the part of Vice President Himle, as well as assertions that outside influences may have played a role in this decision.

Subsequent reasons given by the University for stopping the film from being shown included misleading statements, such as the assertion that the film’s public funding required further review of the film, a position that the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources has repeatedly said is untrue, and that the University has now dropped.

As a land-grant university, the University of Minnesota should be committed to serving all Minnesotans by providing them with accurate, scientifically based information on our agriculture and the environment. According to those that have reviewed the movie—including leading UMN scientists and the LCCMR—“Troubled Waters” is fair and accurate. Whether the film’s content pleases everyone is irrelevant. 

By withholding this film, the University is doing a disservice to the state of Minnesota. To immediately resolve this situation, the University should:

· move forward with the October 3 premiere of “Troubled Waters” at the Bell Museum and the scheduled October 5 TPT airing of the film.

· ask for the resignation of Vice President Himle if she is deemed responsible for the decision, as reported in several media accounts, and appropriately discipline others involved in making this decision, which was ethically and professionally wrong.

· implement a review of university policy to ensure transparent and conflict of interest–free decision making on the part of University administrators going forward.

We also suggest that the University plan a post-film forum at the Bell Museum on October 3, where those who have concerns about the movie can talk alongside those who felt it struck the right balance.

If the university expects to be a trusted source on these issues in the future, it must become more transparent in how it makes decisions and sets priorities. We look forward to working with the U to make these improvements, and trust that you will keep the interests of all Minnesotans in mind with this and future decisions.


George Boody, Executive Director
Land Stewardship Project
Larkin McPhee Comments On 

University of Minnesota's

Handling of Her Film "Troubled Waters"

[I suggest that members of the University community log onto MPR and in the comments section, write an apologetic comment to the director of this film, Ms. McPhee, for the shabby treatment given to her by our university.]

by Larkin McPhee
September 23, 2010

As the producer, director and writer of "Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story," I was surprised and disappointed to learn that University of Minnesota officials had decided to cancel the PBS broadcast and premiere of the documentary at the last minute.

Now I've learned that the university has changed its mind and decided to show the premiere of the film after all. Although this latest turn of events is a relief, the university's process leaves many questions unanswered.

The university's initial explanation for canceling the premiere -- that the film was somehow scientifically inaccurate -- was baffling.
Standards of accuracy, balance and fairness were applied to "Troubled Waters," consistent with my 26 years of experience working at places such as "Smithsonian World," National Geographic Television and the NOVA science series.

"Troubled Waters" underwent a rigorous scientific review process by one of the university's own world-renowned experts and eight other university scientists, as well as local and national experts. In fact, my executive producer, in fulfilling her obligations to the university, made sure that we went the extra mile by seeking broad input from university faculty and scientists.

I understand that the university is interested in presenting a film that is accurate and balanced, a goal we all share. But its sudden about-face, and its later claim that the film "vilifies commercial agriculture," were disturbing. The film features several commercial farmers who are taking significant steps -- through precision agriculture, conservation methods, buffer strips and the preservation of wetlands -- to reduce erosion and nutrient runoff into the Mississippi's watershed. It also includes, among other stories, accounts of organic and grass-fed beef farmers who offer alternative approaches to improving water quality.

The main ideas and issues presented in this film are not new, as the press has pointed out. What is perhaps unique is that this one-hour documentary reveals how various actions on the land interact with the Mississippi River watershed, federal energy and farm policies and the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in a series of "unintended consequences."

The unintended consequences that are at the heart of this film are deeply interconnected issues and represent critical concepts for the public and private sector to grasp in order to make informed decisions going forward. In fact, the commercial, local and organic farmers in this film, who live so close to the land, are already making informed decisions and offering dramatically positive solutions that the public deserves to know about.

When I give talks about my work, I like to say that I never have an agenda when working on a film. Rather, I follow the facts and stories where they take me. I also always seek out hopeful stories because, in my mind, the goal of a documentary is to educate, inform and inspire people. Why make a film if it does not offer hope and encourage positive solutions?
Hundreds of hours of research went into this project, layers of scientific input and approval were obtained at every stage of the film's production, and countless organizations and individuals contributed their time, talent and financial resources to make the film a reality. It is perplexing that the university tried to suppress a film that reflects the hard work of scientists, farmers, concerned citizens and the university's own experts. The public will benefit from this fair and balanced film, which incorporates the contributions of so many. 

Larkin McPhee, Minneapolis, is a writer, producer and director of documentary films.

 Apologies to Ms. McPhee on behalf of my university:

By the waters of the Mississippi, there we sat down and wept...

President Bruininks and Dean Al Levine should also make public apologies to her at the premiere of the film at the Bell on October 3. 
The University of Minnesota 

Attempts to Save Face

On a Botched Censorship Job

From BrauBlog (Minnpost):

"Troubled Waters" premiere reinstated

By David Brauer | Published Thu, Sep 23 2010 4:08 pm 

The U claims its review has taken place, but it sure looks like cave-o-rama to me. From University Relations:

"Troubled Waters" screening to take place as originally scheduled

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (09/23/2010) —The University of Minnesota has announced that the film “Troubled Waters” will be available today. A showing of the film will take place at the Bell Museum on the originally scheduled date of Oct. 3. A discussion of the film will follow the showing.

Professor Susan Weller
, director of the Bell Museum of Natural History, has this week obtained and had an opportunity to review documents that indicate that a review process for the film had taken place. After reviewing this material, Weller has concluded that there is no longer a need for an additional faculty panel to review the film as announced on Sept. 17. The film is being made available today in the form it was in prior to that announcement.

Senior Vice President and Provost Tom Sullivan said today to the University’s Faculty Consultative Committee that the University is pleased with this result, “The Bell Museum and its faculty and staff are well known for their quality productions and educational materials. I look forward to the originally planned release of ‘Troubled Waters.'”

Weller said that together with the viewing of the film, the evening will also include an open forum discussion of the many interesting issues and viewpoints raised by the film. “We are excited by the prospect of hosting a discussion forum of the issues and viewpoints raised by 'Troubled Waters.' It is just this kind of intellectual engagement with our exhibits and productions at the Bell that we believe are exactly what the role of Minnesota’s research University should be.”

The gall of these people, the unvarnished gall.  How about saying, "We're sorry, we really messed this up.  We apologize to the University community for the damage we have done to the reputation of the University by this botched attempt at censorship."

Don't hold your breath.  Being Morrill Hall means never having to say you're sorry...

Added later

Michael McNabb, an attorney and U of M alum, had this to say on the FRPE site:

On September 17 the U of M issues a press release that includes a quote from the director of the Bell Museum that declares the standard procedure of having one researcher oversee a project for "scientific integrity" was not followed for Troubled Waters. Then on September 23 the U of M issues a second press release in which the director of the museum confirms that the required review process had indeed been followed.

So what does the U of M say to the producer and director of Troubled Waters for besmirching their reputations by the previous statements of the director of the museum, the vice president for University Relations, and the dean of the agriculture school? Not a word.

As attorney Joseph Welch said to Senator Joseph McCarthy in June 1954 when McCarthy insinuated that a young lawyer in Welch's firm might be a Communist sympathizer: "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. . . . You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

Michael W. McNabb
University of Minnesota B.A. 1971; J.D. 1974 

The University of Minnesota Finally

Sees Through a Glass of Muddy Water...

Bill Gleason wbgleason RT @dbrauer U adds "Troubled Waters" will "be available today." Cave-o-rama! #troubledwaters }Finally! What were these folks thinking? #UMN
Dan Wolters On 

University of Minnesota's Censorship 

of Troubled Waters

From the Minnesota Daily:

Dan Wolter's explanation of Troubled Waters censorship

The public clearly isn’t happy about the University of Minnesota’s censorship of Troubled Waters.
Yesterday, the Land Stewardship Project, a private non-profit advocacy group for small agriculture, called for the resignation of Karen Himle, the Vice President of University Relations who called TPT to cancel the documentary’s October 5 airing.
In an e-mail exchange with the Editorial Board, University spokesperson Dan Wolter said that Himle will not be involved in the second round of scientific review of the documentary, which is good, considering her ties to the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council.

The University’s explanations of why it censored the film have been changing as frequently as the weather, and we thought it’d be valuable to put Wolter’s official explanation to us on record. In it, he notes that Himle indeed made the call to TPT to cancel the film’s airing, but that doesn’t mean it was her decision.
“As I’m sure you can appreciate, the person who makes the telephone call is not necessarily the one who made the decision,” he writes, without outright saying Himle is indeed one of those people.

She was, however, the person who called Al Levine, CFANS Dean, on Labor Day weekend, who Wolter notes was one of the officials who wanted to pull the film, along with the Bell Museum’s director. Levine also has ties to the Agri-Growth Council, and, as David Brauer of reports, the University has booted a story critical of big ag. before.

The e-mail was prefaced with this question from us: “We were curious why you told TC Daily Planet—in its initial report—that the Bell Museum was responsible for halting the film's release, when, on the same day, the Strib reported that it was Himle’s call. Don't you two work together?” (The Strib report was actually a day after the TC Daily Planet story that broke the issue).

Here’s Wolter’s reply:

“The review being assembled now is a scientific review, so those involved will have primarily scientific backgrounds. Vice President Himle will not be part of this process. As Bell Museum Director Weller has said, upon further review, it was determined that this project did not follow the typical process the Bell Museum uses for exhibits and productions, which is a researcher to oversee the production’s scientific integrity from beginning to end. This review doesn’t have any pre-determined outcome, but is simply intended to correct an oversight.
And second, my comment to TC Daily Planet was indeed correct. As part of being reviewed by a number of offices, concerns were expressed about the scientific accuracy, objectivity and balance of the production -- as well as whether it was responsive to the legislative appropriation.
Your own paper today has a number of academics who expressed those concerns. The decision to postpone the premiere was indeed done by Bell Museum director Weller and Dean Levine (to whom the Bell reports) in consultation with others (including Vice President Himle and others, including those quoted in today’s Daily).
Vice President Himle, as VP for University Relations, is the one who made the call to TPT as she’s the one with the contacts there and that also falls into her job responsibilities. As I’m sure you can appreciate, the person who makes the telephone call is not necessarily the one who made the decision. As she said in your paper today, she did indeed have concerns about the production, particularly what appeared like commercial promotion of private businesses.”
Last Friday, we had called Himle’s office for an interview. But a secretary had said that Himle had already talked to the Daily. We explained that, like most newspapers, there is a firewall between the opinion section and newsroom. Alas, we never heard back from Himle; Wolter said on Monday that she was in meetings all day. Although Wolter never talked to us over the phone, he did forward us an e-mail on Friday with this news release. “In case you didn't see this,” he wrote. “The key point is underlined for you.

In it, the second paragraph was underlined, save its last sentence. It's a statement from Dr. Susan Weller, director of the Bell Museum.

Our standard procedure at the Bell Museum is that our exhibits and educational products have at least one researcher who oversees the project’s scientific integrity from inception to completion. Unfortunately, this procedure was not followed by the Bell Media unit for production of the documentary, ‘Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story."

Molly Priesmeyer of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, who saw the film, notes that the University hasn't responded to a Daily Planet request for a copy of documents outlining that policy.

Being Dan Wolter means never having to say you're sorry?

As Chris Ison put it in an earlier (March 9, 2009) Daily article:

In an interview for this column, Wolter said that he works hard to get the Daily the information it wants as quickly as possible, despite large numbers of requests. (Disclosure: I have an in-law who works at the News Service. We don’t discuss these issues.) Wolter said he treats Daily journalists as professionals while helping educate them about access to information.

Sounds reasonable. But Wolter could use at least as much educating. Professional journalists usually aren’t forced to communicate with public information offices only through e-mail, as Wolter generally demands of Daily reporters. It’s a system that inhibits good-faith communication and reasonably quick access. Most professional journalists aren’t pressured to go through one office to cover, on a daily basis, a community of more than 60,000 people — only to be chastised for being a burden on that office.

Wolter’s e-mail policy does give him plenty of chances to scold reporters for doing their jobs. Take the recent e-mail sent to a reporter after she politely explained her role as a journalist and said she hoped to forge “a more professional and collaborative” relationship with his office. Wolter responded in part by criticizing her calls to other University offices, saying “there’s nothing in their job description about talking to the media.” He complained of how “most people who have been at the ‘U’ for more than a couple of years also have a story of how the Daily wasted their time in some way.”

It’s a petty claim that would be fodder for jokes in most newsrooms. But for Daily reporters, it’s another reminder of who wields the power.

Doesn't sound like Wolter has learned much since then.  Perhaps he should go back to flaking for some up-and-coming politician? He certainly should not be flaking for any university that knows what the word means...

How Tuition Increases Are Really Determined

At the University of Minnesota...

I've maintained for quite some time that tuition is simply used as an adjustable parameter for balancing the budget at the U of M and that it is not directly related to the cost of education the way it should be if tuition were actually being used only for education at the U...

Here's confirmation:


Senate Committee on Finance and Planning

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Ms. Tonneson [Office of Budget and Finance] reviewed data related to the University's existing base appropriation and scenarios requested by the state (cuts of 5%, 10%, and 15%).

They are looking at the implications of those three levels of cuts for both the existing legislative base (increased above the actual appropriation in the last session) and the actual base (which is lower).

A 15% cut in the existing base (a cut of $192.7 million) would require a 6% tuition increase to offset it;

a 15% cut in the actual appropriation (a cut of $279.5 million) would require an 11.8% tuition increase to offset it.

Ms. Tonneson emphasized that neither she nor the Budget and Finance office are advocating tuition increases; they only point out the implications of any reductions in state funding were the University to consider tuition as one way to offset the cuts.
So let's think about this a bit...

Is this a threat by the administration that a cut will lead to tuition increases?

Suppose the tuition increases actually occurred. Where would the money go? Would it go to educational expenses or elsewhere? And how would we ever be able to figure this out?

When will the charade in Morrill Hall end? When will we know the relationship between tuition, the state contribution, and the actual cost of education? How can we ever decide whether a tuition increase is justified?

Perhaps keeping us in the dark about all these questions is what Morrill Hall wants?

This has got to stop.
A Call for Leadership at

the University of Minnesota

From a Universally Respected State Legislator

“The U’s reputation is suffering. I hate to see that happen, and (University of Minnesota President) Bob Bruininks has got to take control of the situation.”

From On Campus (MPR):

State Rep. Jean Wagenius, co-chair of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, commenting on the fallout from the U’s pulling of the Troubled Waters environmental documentary. The commission oversees close to 70 percent of the funding of the film.


Here’s the background to the quote I just posted — from DFL state Rep. Jean Wagenius, who helps chair the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, a legislative body that oversees close to 70 percent of the funding of the film.

I got in touch with her because in this whole Troubled Waters affair, we’ve yet to get much reaction from the legislature.

The film is a taxpayer-funded project, but as far as I’ve heard and read, as of last night the University of Minnesota had yet to officially explain to its funders or legislative sponsors why it canceled the film’s premier at the last minute.

That hasn’t won friends among politicians, it seems.

Wagenius said the university has handled the Troubled Waters controversy “terribly” and damaged its reputation “because of (allegations of) censorship and conflict of interest.”

“The U’s reputation is suffering,” she said, and she’s concerned that the story could go national. It has already been picked up by news outlets such as the Chronicle of Higher Education, the leading publication in higher education circles.

She stopped short of calling for the head of the U official at the center of all this – Vice President for University Relations Karen Himle – saying that “it’s not a legislator’s role to talk about specific personnel at the University. That’s the responsibility of (University President) Bob Bruininks.”

Bruininks, she said, should return from his trip to Morocco and “take control of the situation.”

Judging from her informal conversations with University employees, she said, “people are horrified.”