Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fire Himle?

Of course not...

I've known Ms. Himle since the time she came to the U. Talked with her several times and although we disagree on some things, she has always impressed me as an extremely intelligent and articulate person, just the kind of person we would want representing the U in a pr capacity.

Old-timers here will remember her frequent appearances on Almanac and also her skill in handling public forums at the U. She has done an outstanding job in beating down costs in her position, although I wish the Driven to Discover propaganda engine was not being fired up again on television.

So what happened here?

As far as I can determine, Ms. Himle looked at the film in question, Troubled Waters, and decided that it "looked bad for the U." Which, as a pr person, is her job. She then contacted a dean and apparently the dean is the one who pulled the film, although there is some controversy over who, exactly, is responsible. Other good soldiers have stepped forward to take the bullet, but it is clear that the pr department alone did not stop this film.

Point: Ms. Karen Himle did not pull the film unilaterally. Someone else, a dean or a director, did.

Conflict of interest?

Here things get a little less clear. Ms. Himle has described herself in the past as a political agnostic because that is what you have to be in this business. Fair enough.

Unfortunately, as folks in the medical school are learning, even the appearance of a conflict of interest is a problem. And agribusiness does not have to show up at Morrill Hall with a truckload of gold before conflict of interest is evident. Implicit agreement to go do something because it is in the best interests of the university? Happens all the time... The problem, of course, is in deciding what is in the best interests of the university.

Let me give an example. Suppose some kids went through your fenced yard every day at 3 pm on their way home from school. You don't like it and tell them so. Then you go and buy a pit bull and let it out in the yard at about 2:50 and the obvious happens. The kids were trespassing and had been warned so they got what they deserved, right? I did NOT sic my pit bull on the kids, I just let it out in my yard for exercise.

The point being that there are a lot of ways, short of an explicit discussion of what is actually happening, to influence behavior. The censorship at the U may even have been the worst kind - self-censorship.

And then there is the important question of who, ultimately, is responsible for this mess. The answer is, obviously, President Bruininks.

To merely state his support of his VP is to dodge some fundamental questions about censorship and conflict of interest.

It is time for the President to speak up, unfiltered by press-agentry of folks like spin-meister Wolter. The public relations operation at the University of Minnesota should NOT be influencing decisions of the type that led to pulling this film.

As has been documented, some deans at the U have also had their dirty hands on this one and actually bear more responsibility than the pr department for allowing this to happen.

The lack of judgment shown in this matter is appalling.

The present administration at the U seems to understand neither the concept of academic freedom, nor that of conflict of interest. Let's hope that the next president comes from outside with clean hands and that the many mistakes of the recent past are not repeated.

No comments: