Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Reviewing Troubled Waters - should faculty participate?

In today's STRIB, Tom Meersman reports that Peter Reich, regents professor in the Department of Forest Resources will chair the review committee. Recall that after the film was pulled by university relations, the Bell Museum was charged with forming a review committee. Should faculty participate on this committee? If the university violated principles of academic freedom by postponing the public viewing of the film and then subjecting it to review, then are faculty participating in that violation by sitting on the review committee? I'm not convinced that this process is analogous to usual processes of peer review, since these processes are set up ex ante, not as a consequence of PR people and deans with industry links being upset by the lack of "balance" in the film. So in some sense it seems to me that by participating on the review committee, faculty are legitimating what the university has done. What do others think?

Bruininks also weighed in from Morocco:

"I have every confidence in Vice President Himle and her integrity"...adding that she "continues to be an outstanding part of my leadership team."


  1. There should be no review at all. There have already been reviews by "27 scientists at the U and elsewhere" (Barb Coffin in yesterday's Strib article). This is a finished film. It should be shown AS IS and not changed one bit. I for one do have a copy of the script so if everyone caves in and there actually are changes made I will know what they are. But if that happens then the film's integrity will have been severely damaged.

    (therefore - anyone who participates in this review is part of the Censoring Apparatus)

    Here's a question I've had for a long time (I was on staff at the U for about 7 years in the 1990's) - maybe you Faculty types can answer it. If you are a tenured professor who chooses the Administrative path and some big controversy comes up and you (say, for example, Dr. Susan Weller) have a chance to stand up to your Dean and do the right thing - WHY DON'T YOU DO IT ? I mean, the worst that can happen is you give up your Administrative job and you're still a tenured professor. I'm sure there's a simple answer to that but I just don't get it.

  2. Since the movie has already been vetted, this extra layer of participation by faculty could be seen as endorsement of the actions the U admin has already taken that appear to be censorship. This is no doubt the administration's intent and standard operating procedure. Drag the faculty into it at a late date to participate and then claim that everything is OK.

    Of course it would be unfair to guess the motives of faculty who decide to participate. They may feel that it is their duty to help the University avoid further embarrassment. There seems little doubt, given who owns the film, that it will be available to the public, in an uncut version, eventually. Ms. Priesmeyer has already seen the uncensored version and written about it. Perhaps it would be best for all if the university immediately released the film and allowed it to premiere on October 3.

    This would, of course, be the right thing to do, but would require eating a little crow. Can't have that...

    This administration has demonstrated many times before that it is not interested in the best course of action for the university, but rather in face saving moves and in denial. Examples abound such as: toleration of double dipping, foot dragging on conflict of interest in the medical school, and ignoring the Regents Policy on reorganization in both the Graduate School and the Medical School.

    Bruininks' remarks from Morocco bear an odd similarity to remarks of Pawlenty while far from home and his job.

    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. The pr department at the U of M did NOT pull this film. Although it is not entirely clear at whose feet to lay the blame, the Morrill Hall Gang is involved and one of the deans "the film vilifies agriculture" is a prime suspect. Or perhaps the Bell Director is going to take one for the team?

    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. But ultimately, the Morrill Hall Gang bears responsibility and should acknowledge it, rather than trying to use the pr department as sacrificial lambs.

    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.

    One of the questions we should ask prospective presidential candidates - they are coming to campus for an open interview aren't they? - is where they stand on the action taken on this film? What would they have done?

  3. Anonymous -

    Stand up to your Dean and do the right thing?

    I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I see a question like this. When you are dealing with an administration such as this one, the Morrill Hall Gang, then the deck is strongly stacked against you...

    And deans are a part of the Morrill Hall Gang, without any doubt. Look at the "film vilifies agriculture" dean...

    And the General Counsel's Office has a lot to answer for in this matter. But you have to realize that the General Counsel is basically Morrill Hall's lawyers.

    For just one of many examples of poor behavior on the part of Mr. Rotenberg's crew, please see:

    Another favorite example of mine that illustrates the lack of ethical standards is the situation with respect to the double dippers:

    We are in desperate need of an outsider for our next president.

  4. Two more members of the press view Troubled Waters and conclude that it does not vilify agriculture.

    For more info, please see:

    "We’re not agriculture experts, but it wasn’t obvious to us as lay viewers how this film vilifies agriculture."

    "Post later called Levine from the U’s ag college to get some clarity on what parts vilified agriculture. Levine, however, referred us to University spokesman Dan Wolter, who declined to comment."

    [See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil?]

  5. Representative Jean Wagenius, a universally respected state legislator weighs in on MPR:

    “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.”

    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.

    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.”


  6. Game, set, match.

    The film will be shown as originally scheduled on October 3 and released as early as today.

    There is so much that could be said about this situation, but it is depressing enough that I will simply shut up...

    Anyone who knows what the phrase academic freedom means knows what I would say.

    And Tom Sullivan - our provost and a lawyer - did not cover himself with glory in this matter, either.

  7. 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

  8. Larkin McPhee has written a commentary on MPR about the university's handling of her film:

    I suggest that university community members log onto this site and leave in the comments section an apologetic note for the shabby treatment she has received from our university. Note Mr. McNabb's comments above.

    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.